by Ellen Isaacs June, 2019
In Bring the War Home, University of Chicago History Professor Kathleen Belew presents a picture of the broad and coordinated nature of the white power movement, which ultimately aims to destroy the U.S. Government and establish an all-white state. She provides convincing evidence that many supposedly “lone wolf” attacks are actually part of this grand conspiracy, most notably the 1995 bombing of the Murrah Federal Builing in Oklahoma City, which killed 168 people and for which Timothy McVeigh was executed. She documents that federal agencies have long been aware of the mass character of the white power movement, and yet law enforcement and justice agencies have not responded in proportion to the threat, and the media has almost completely ignored its cohesive character. Although the author sees violent white power at home as a consequence of a violent foreign policy, what she does not consider is whether the growth of such a mass racist movement is useful to those in power. Nor does she contrast the undersized response to it with the aggressive targeting of foreign-inspired terrorism or left-leaning opponents of racism. She also does not discuss the extent and success of anti-racist opposition to white power activities.
History of White Power
The white power movement today is an amalgam of many racist, anti-communist and separatist groups, from the Ku Klux Klan to neo-Nazis to militias, who increasingly see the state as the enemy. There were three historical surges in racist activism, primarily as the KKK, in American history. The first was after the Civil War, in opposition to reconstruction and later as an arm of the state during the Jim Crow era. The next rise was after WWI and then again in response to the civil rights movement of the 1960-70s. New impetus came from the Vietnam War, when some veterans not only resented the disappearance of segregation in the armed forces and were angered by the anti-war movement and hostility to veterans, but saw the government as failing in the fight against communism
Louis Beam, a racist Vietnam vet, came home and joined the KKK, the American Citizens Council, the Minutemen, and other rightwing groups, but found their tactics to be wanting. Instead he built his own chapter, Knights of the Ku Klux Klan (KKKK), allied with David Duke, and bought 50 acres of land in Texas to use as a paramilitary training camp. He thought the U.S. would ultimately lose a war with the USSR, after which he would build a white homeland. The KKKK began with violent acts against a communist rally, a Houston radio station, Communist Party headquarters, and the abduction of women, but any charges brought against the group were quickly dropped.
The largest post-war KKKK campaign was against immigrant Vietnamese fishermen, who were operating very successfully on the Texas coast in 1979-81. Eventually the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) brought a civil suit in their defense and used the trial to expose the illegal paramilitary camps in Texas. But by the time these were shut down, many new ones had been opened in Missouri, West Virginia, Indiana, Colorado, Florida, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Idaho by similar racist groups. In Idaho, Beam formalized an alliance with the Aryan Nations.
In November, 1979 the most murderous post-Vietnam attack occurred in Greensboro, North Carolina, when five Death to the Klan demonstrators were killed by a combined KKK and Nazi group. This attack was allowed to proceed even though there were two FBI informants among the white power planners, one of whom may have actually incited the violence. Perhaps the fact that the demonstrators were organized by the Communist Workers Party (CWP) is part of the reason that the police were gathered several blocks away and didn’t arrive until the gunfire had subsided, which Belew attributes “to a series of command decisions and miscommunications” (p 65). At the trial, an FBI agent falsely testified that the CWP may have fired the first shot. Despite video evidence identifying all the fascist attackers, both state and federal all-white juries acquitted all of the defendants. A civil rights suit in 1984 resulted in one wrongful death conviction, for which the City of Greensboro paid the settlement. The CWP and the Progressive Labor Party (PLP) continued to organize protests against white power events, but the racists were not prosecuted despite the illegal use of weapons. Instead, more unity was build between the KKK, Nazis and the Christian Right, and anti-communism became primary and attacks on blacks and Jews secondary.
In 1983, the white power movement held a unifying World Congress and announced a fundamental paradigm shift, declaring war against the state instead of on its behalf (p104). The government had previously been seen as sufficiently white supremacist and anti-communist, but no longer. Bob Mathews became the leader of the unified movement, now called The Order. They declared war on the Zionist Occupation Government (ZOG), later changed to the New World Order, and aimed to destabilize the federal government and wage revolutionary race war. They would accomplish this by bombing infrastructure, undermining the currency, assassinating federal agents and judges, and building separate white power enclaves.
In order to preserve secrecy and prevent infiltration, the movement also developed a new operational strategy. They would act in leaderless cells, with up to five, but as few as one, members. Strategy would be communicated through publications and an internet site, the Liberty Net, one of the first uses of the budding web. Overall guidance would come from The Turner Diaries, a novel wherein the hero blows up FBI headquarters and later goes on a suicide mission to bomb the Pentagon in a small plane carrying a nuclear weapon. After his death, there is a campaign of violence that awakens the public and establishes a white society. An aggressive campaign of prison recruiting to the Aryan Brotherhood was also begun and migration to the northwest was urged. In order to finance operations and destabilize the government, they began to counterfeit money and stage large-scale robberies, netting $3.6 million from one Brinks truck in 1984. The money was distributed to cells around the country, primarily to buy weapons.
The anti-state outlook was further cemented by two large government attacks on white power movement outposts. The police had become increasingly militarized in the 90s, armed with defense department weapons and organized into SWAT teams, but their attacks had been limited to communities of color. In 1992, this overblown militaristic response was brought to bear against a separatist at Ruby Ridge who had illegally modified two guns for sale. In the attack, his wife and son were killed. Soon after, many women and children were killed as the government assaulted a separatist cult in Waco, Texas. The reaction to the deaths of white women and children increased the white power membership to an estimated 50,000, with 7.5 million followers.
Another convention in 1992 added skinheads and militia members to the unified movement. Operatives were still to operate alone or in small groups. It was in this milieu that Timothy McVeigh began to function. After washing out of the Special Forces, he attended Michigan Militia meetings and was then one of the angry rightists who descended on Waco. The Murrah Federal Building had been on a list of potential movement targets for over ten years, the bomb plot followed that outlined in The Turner Diaries, and the deed occurred on the second anniversary of the Waco siege. McVeigh’s escape plan involved holing up in an Order stronghold at Elohim city, where he had also spent time beforehand. Nonetheless, McVeigh was pictured as a lone operator, save for his two accomplices.
What of the Anti-Racist Opposition
The author fails to contrast this picture of a powerful and widespread white power movement, which is little disrupted by inept or unsuccessful attempts of the government to control it, with the very intense efforts to infiltrate and control anti-racist and left wing organizing. In the FBI Counterintelligence Program Archives (https://web.archive.org/web/20130603094342/http://cisupa.proquest.com/ksc_assets/catalog/101095_FBIBlackExtrOrgsPt1COINTELPRO.pdf) can be found the program COINTELPRO–BLACK HATE, which focused on Martin Luther King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) as well as the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), the Revolutionary Action Movement (RAM), the Deacons for Defense and Justice, Council of Racial Equality(CORE), and the Nation of Islam. BLACK HATE established the Ghetto Informant Program and instructed 23 FBI offices to “disrupt, misdirect, discredit, or otherwise neutralize the activities of black nationalist hate type organizations.” The FBI is still engaging in COINTELPRO behavior by surveilling the Black Lives Matter movement. In 2014, an activist of the movement was tracked using tactics which The Intercept found “reminiscent of a rich American history of targeting black Americans,” including “FBI’s notorious COINTELPRO program.”
There have been many instances of successful actions against white power groups, which have caused their events to be aborted or cancelled or their meetings disrupted. The most long-standing recent opposition came from the communist PLP, who were careful to better assess the opposition and risks than had been the CWP. In the 80-90s, they succeeded in invading a Nazi headquarters in Chicago and physically stopped them from broadcasting from a Kansas City radio station. They smashed David Duke and his forces in Boston, burned a Klan hood at a John Brown demonstration in Texas, stood up against armed Klansmen in Tupelo, Mississippi, and infiltrated and attacked the racists in downtown New York City and in Morristown, New Jersey. In fact, Klan leader Bill Wilkerson publicly declared in the 1980s that PLP was the main barrier they faced in building their movement.
When a coalition of many militarily armed white power groups massed in Charlottesville in August, 2017, the police stood by as racists battled 1500 opposing protestors. The police did not respond to a racist firing his gun at a black protestor, nor were they present to prevent a car driving into an anti-racist crowd, killing one woman and injuring 19 others (that driver was convicted of murder). Two months earlier, the Charlottesville police had tear-gassed a group of anti-KKK protestors after the KKK had left. A month after Charlottesville, 40,000 anti-racists came to Boston to oppose the next white power gathering, to which very few racists dared show up.
If law enforcement is present at white power events, those injured or arrested are more likely to be anti-racist demonstrators than racists. In February 2016, the KKK, armed with knives, stabbed counter-protestors led by the PLP in Anaheim California. The police did not intervene, and any racists who were eventually arrested had all the charges immediately dropped. Seven anti-racists, four of whom had serious injuries, were arrested and charged with assault or resisting arrest. It took a two-year massive effort building community support to have almost all of their charges dismissed.
Present Day Government Stance
At the Congressional House Oversight Committee Hearings of May, 2019, the frequency of hate crimes was documented. Between 2013-7, the FBI listed 7500 hate crimes per year, but the Bureau of Justice Statistics estimates there are 200,000 per year. This discrepancy exists because reporting by state and local agencies to the FBI is voluntary, and only 12% of such agencies report at all. Although terrorism is the FBI’s first priority, white supremacist crimes are rarely called hate crimes or terrorism. The violence and murder of an anti-racist demonstrator in Charlottesville, where Trump declared there were “good people on both sides”, was not called a hate crime. The murder of nine black worshipers at a church in South Carolina was not called terrorism, nor was the killing of 11 Jews at a synagogue in Pittsburgh. Both were committed by white men, said to be lone operators. On the other hand, attacks by Muslim shooters in San Bernadino, California and at the gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida that killed 49 were called terrorism.
According to the Anti-Defamation League, Islamic extremism caused 23% of all extremist murders from 2009-2018 and the far right caused 73%. But the FBI spends four times as much on internationally inspired terrorism as it does on domestic terrorism. The FBI acknowledged 7000 hate crimes in 2017, which was a 17% increase from 2016 and a 31% increase from 2014. Those against blacks rose 20%, against Jews 35%, against Latins 43% and against Muslims 44%. Nonetheless, Trump has rescinded grants to organizations countering white supremacy, and the Department of Homeland Security has disbanded its analyst group on domestic terrorism.
Who Fights Against and Who Benefits from White Supremacy?
In her book, Belew fails to ask why, with so many informants in the movement and so many blatant violations of law, so little is done to prevent white power violence or growth. We would postulate that racism and white supremacy are not foreign ideas to this nation birthed in slavery and still home to massive racial discrimination.
All of the articles on this blog discuss the ways in which racism and nationalism divide the American working people, into separate neighborhoods, schools, jobs and struggles. We are barraged with tales of social problems being caused by the “other’, taking our jobs or stealing our resources. We are imbued with hatred and fear of foreigners to justify wars for resources and territory. We are drowned in anti-immigrant rhetoric to maintain a terrified undocumented labor force and deflect blame from capitalism for lack of work or a living wage. Although it has been known for a couple of decades that there is no scientific basis for the existence of races, this world-shaking fact is almost hidden from us. One would expect it to be trumpeted in every book, film, or speech if racism were not so necessary to our society.
In fact, the vast differences in wages and social spending and the vast chasms racism succeeds in digging between us are necessary to the survival of U.S. capitalism. Thus we would postulate that the lack of vigor in prosecuting and disbanding violent, conspiratorial, and malicious white power groups is in the interests of those in power. Not only do white power extremists help keep racist ideas and practices alive, but they allow the more liberal politicians to be mildly critical and so appear less racist themselves. Now, we have advanced so near to the brink of fascism, that the President and his cronies, can openly embrace these racist thugs. Perhaps they will be replaced by more liberal voices, but the history of politicians of all stripes, even black ones, should not give us hope that violent racists will be made to account. Only by building multiracial relationships and struggles ourselves and vigorously opposing the ideas and actions of white supremacy and nationalism can we defeat racist divisions and violence. It is up to us to act, to build multiracial ties and actions, and not rely on the police or the politicians to do it for us.