Alt+Right+Delete: The disingenuous and contradictory rhetoric of white nationalism
So now we know: White nationalists have been working more on their wardrobe than tightening up the rhetoric and logic with which they defend and present their worldview.
Case in point, Richard Spencer, the Nazi flavor-of-the-month and white nationalist leader whom the media has deemed the movement’s bright and shining star. Although for a while they seemed fixated on Matt Heimbach as the “new David Duke,” frankly Spencer fits that bill better, and for reasons entirely aesthetic. Given a choice between a guy who resembles nothing so much as an unemployed lumberjack or a dandy who dresses in stylish pea-coats and natty vests, I think we all know what happens next. This is the same national media who thought David Duke was the fresh face of racism in the 1970s, just because he had all his teeth, generally avoided the use of racial slurs and was capable of producing multi-syllabic utterances from his mouth hole. In other words, when the white racist bar has been set by semi-illiterate lynch mobs, tobacco-chewin’ Mississippi sheriffs and the likes of George Wallace, clearing it isn’t exactly astrophysics.
But while the movement was seeking to professionalize and become more intellectual, advocating white “identitarianism” and insisting it is no less valid than identity politics on the part of people of color, it has remained startlingly unable to address the ultimate question posed by its politic: namely, how do white nationalists propose to create an all-white homeland in America? Because this, after all, is their self-professed endgame. And more to the point, how could such a thing be accomplished without mass violence against persons of color, as well as Jews, for whom this movement reserves its greatest hatred?
It’s a question I’ve been posing to white nationalists for over two decades. And in every case, those who aspire to any level of intellectual erudition simply dodge it, or seek to change the subject. They do this because they know that even if they can convince large numbers of whites to agree with some of their basic arguments about so-called reverse discrimination, immigration, or the problems of “political correctness,” the revulsion to genocidal movements is rather concretized nowadays, such that any open articulation of the same would immediately sink them. This is why they have to couch their Pepe-as-Stormtrooper memes as nothing serious, as just a joke, as mere satire meant to tweak uptight Jews. It’s why they have to pretend their tweets telling Jews to “get in the oven” are pure irony—something Nazis haven’t done especially well since they opted to call the purging of openly gay SA leader Ernst Rohm, the “Night of the Long Knives.”
Knowing how reluctant these folks are to come clean about their ultimate plans, when I debated white nationalist thought-leader Jared Taylor several years ago, both on the radio and at Vanderbilt Law School, I raised this question. And each time, Taylor punted, insisting that things like “white flight” — whereby whites begin leaving neighborhoods when they become “too diverse” — was evidence enough that the creation of all-white spaces would happen naturally if the government would simply stop meddling with the process via desegregation requirements or anti-discrimination laws. In other words, left to their own devices people would separate of their own accord. Putting aside the extent to which racial separatism or enmity are indeed natural — a subject I’ve addressed both in those debates and elsewhere, several times — the answer was a non sequitur.
After all, there is nothing preventing white people from fleeing integrated areas and moving to suburbs, exurbs, or small towns in Montana like the one Richard Spencer calls home. If that were all the nationalists wanted they would hardly require a political movement to attain their goals. As Taylor notes, that already happens and is not prohibited. What is prohibited is keeping non-whites from likewise moving wherever they might like. As such, in the end, more than simple “free association” and choice would be required, and every honest white nationalist knows it. Laws would have to prohibit the free movement of people of color. And those persons of color already living in areas to which whites might like to lay claim — sometimes articulated as the Pacific Northwest, other times the states of the old Confederacy, and still other times the entirety of the nation’s landmass — would have to be purged. So again the question: how do white nationalists propose to bring such a thing about without violence?
The question was asked of Spencer recently, on at least two occasions. First by a Washington Post reporter and then during the Q&A session following his public presentation at Texas A&M University this week. And in both instances he tried to dodge the implications of his position. Though reluctant to offer many specifics about how one might attain a “white ethno-state” in America, he was ultimately forced to concede to the reporter from the Post, however dispassionately, that bringing his vision to fruition may require actions that would be “horribly bloody and terrible.” Then, at A&M, asked the same question by a black guy who demanded to know what white nationalists would seek to do with him, and how they planned to make it happen, a clearly nervous Spencer — not well-practiced when it comes to staring down a black man daring him to start some shit — was reduced to saying, “I’m not making you leave…You’re a citizen…you’re here.” In other words, he wouldn’t have to go anywhere: a statement that will come as quite a surprise to the Nazi shock troops who need and have come to expect from Richard a more unapologetic approach. Simply put, and using the terminology favored by the movement of which Spencer is such an integral part, he got cucked, hard. In the end, he went from being a brash and bloviating mini-Hitler, ranting to the audience about how “this is our Goddamned country!” to a feeble and frightened child or pathetic internet troll—a persona all too common to the movement and far more ubiquitous than the muscular brownshirt types they would like us to envision. Edward Norton in American History X they are not.
But make no mistake, ethnic cleansing and the violent removal of non-whites is exactly what they desire, no matter how unwilling they are to say so in the presence of black and brown peoples, like the ones upon whom they would need to make war, or simply away from the safe and breezy confines of a national media interview. In their private spaces or writings they acknowledge it, the way David Duke did in his autobiography, where he wrote that America must become an all white nation “no matter the cost or whatever sacrifices it takes,” that it will be necessary for “whites to prevail in a revolutionary physical struggle” over people of color and Jews, that whites must be “Aryan warriors,” and that “before the battle is over, many of us will find a heroic death… a physical revolution may be required…” Their entire worldview is about domination and subordination, and we know this because of something else Spencer has been saying recently, in interviews as well as speeches: the one at the National Policy Institute conference in DC, right after the presidential election, and the one at Texas A&M. Specifically, he has been quite adamant in proclaiming that whites are a people defined by a cosmic impulse to conquer. Although Spencer insists he is not a supremacist because he doesn’t seek to rule over anyone else, the intellectual hard-on you can see him popping every time he professes the conquering impulse of whiteness — and his own admission that he gets literal wood reading about Napoleon — betrays his real sympathies all too visibly. But the inconsistency here — professing to believe in white conquest of others but not domination of them — is hardly the most internally inconsistent part of his worldview.
When Richard Spencer argues (hoping to channel a hyper-masculine bravado quite decisively rendered counterfeit by his stylish haircut and ankle boots), that America belongs to whites because “we conquered this continent” and no matter how bloody the process, ultimately “we won,” he reduces all complex moral and philosophical arguments, both for his side and against it, to a simple equation of “might makes right.” At that point, winning itself becomes the only necessary and entirely sufficient standard upon which to rest a claim to power of any kind. Putting aside the intellectual obtuseness of the standard itself, and how precious it appears coming from a preening fop whose own prep school has denounced him (which is to say he couldn’t even “conquer” St. Marks Academy, let alone a continent), let’s at least acknowledge what the position ultimately does to Spencer’s own worldview. Because indeed, if might makes right is to be the standard for evaluating moral claims and if winning makes the winners right by definition, thereby entitling them to ownership of the society and culture they have managed to conquer, then by that very standard — Spencer’s chosen sword upon which to fall — the entire basis for white nationalism is undone. And why? Quite simply because as of now, his side has lost quite a bit.
Just as a football game has more than one quarter, so too does history proceed beyond the opening moments of the competition. Spencer would have us stop the clock and call the game after that point at which white Americans had conquered, wrested control from both their British overlords and the indigenous of the continent so as to forge a new nation. Unfortunately for Spencer and his entire crew, they have spiked the ball short of the end zone and with plenty of time on the clock. Because some of those whom his team defeated — for instance the black folks whose labor was central to the creation of the new nation in the first place, and who were initially defeated in the sense of being rendered non-citizens — remained to fight another day. And ever since that initial victory, Spencer’s team has been losing quite consistently. They lost in the abolition struggle and the Civil War. They lost yet again during the civil rights era. And they have lost spectacularly in the culture war, seeing as how multiculturalism is thoroughly dominant in all areas of American society today, from music to literature to fashion to cuisine to politics to theatre.
Frankly, if Spencer really believes that might makes right — that winning is all that matters — then he should, by necessity, consider Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks, MLK—hell, even Beyonce and Lin Manuel-Miranda his personal heroes. Somehow I’m guessing he doesn’t. And if winning is all that matters, then bet on black. Having spent the weekend in DC and having toured the new Museum of African American History and Culture I can assure Spencer and all who think like him, folks of color have been overcoming bigger and badder than they, and for a very long time. Among other items, the museum includes iron shackles, an auction block and the handle of Lester Maddox’s axe. If these didn’t stop black folks — and the rest of the exhibit is testament to just how completely they failed to do so — it is doubtful that a movement led by a hipster racist in a tweed vest is going to accomplish it.
The very fact that roughly 100 million Americans of color now call this country home and have survived everything the Richard Spencers of the world have thrown at them, and continue to grow as a share of the nation’s population, and increasingly define the culture, is, by Richard Spencer’s own moral standard, proof that they now “own America” too and have the right to claim it. After all, if might makes right, one must acknowledge that white nationalism remains a minority movement, even among a majority population. Donald Trump’s victory does nothing to suggest otherwise. Trump got tens of millions of votes. Richard Spencer inspired fewer than 300 Nazi-con dude-bros, reality-show burnout Tila Tequila, and someone known as “Pistachio Girl” — seriously, a Philadelphia woman known for selling pistachios and singing (sorta) to fans at Phillies games — to come to his DC conference. In short, white nationalism is still a movement of losers. Although I do not presume that this renders them by definition illegitimate (might makes right is not my standard, after all), if we are to take Spencer’s paeans to conquest seriously, then he must assume that his own movement is without merit.
To claim that victory is its own justification is not only tautological in the extreme, it renders all of Spencer’s other arguments irrelevant. When he insists it is perfectly valid for whites to collectively promote their interests as a racial group, one need not even spend the time explaining why this differs fundamentally from people of color doing the same (since the latter are organizing for a place at the table, while the former are seeking to keep the entire table to themselves and deny opportunities to the marginalized). Rather, with power identified as the only relevant standard, we can simply answer that most whites reject actually doing that as whites, and do not agree with a movement that asks them to organize on that basis. Which means they have lost that argument, and therefore, having lost, the argument need not be taken seriously.
Where he claims that whites are the victims of “reverse discrimination,” one need not even bother demonstrating the factual and analytical absurdity of the notion, as I have done previously, over and over and over and over and over again. Rather, with power and winning as the only relevant matrices, we can just say, “Oh well, too bad.” Just as discrimination against people of color sprang from them having “lost” to more powerful whites who imposed those conditions upon them, so too then, one could suggest that whites have simply lost, both to people of color and antiracist whites who have created things like affirmative action so as to produce greater equality of opportunity and limit previously unearned white advantages. And having lost, most recently at the Supreme Court in the Fisher case, their position is thus without merit solely because it was defeated by the more powerful side. That’s not my argument, but it is certainly the one that flows logically from his.
Where Spencer and his followers insist there is a movement for “white genocide” masquerading as diversity and multiculturalism, one needn’t even bother with fashioning a comprehensive rebuttal to such vacuous nonsense. Rather, and using the logic that says winning is all that matters in determining the legitimacy of a given arrangement, we can simply retort, “tough!” After all, the genocide of indigenous persons was accomplished, by Spencer’s acknowledgment, with violence and bloodshed, but to the winners go the spoils. So suck it up buttercup, a mantra the directionality of which he cannot then limit, but rather must apply back against he and his, apparently too weak to stave off the forces of inclusion.
And when Spencer’s minions exclaim their dismay at the power wielded by Jews, whom they believe literally run everything, from media to banking to politics to most of corporate America, their own “power means legitimacy” equation makes it entirely superfluous to even bother pointing out the puerile ridiculousness of the charge. Rather, we can simply inquire as to how the strong and virile white men who conquered the continent by dint of their masculine virtues became so weak and flabby as to be rendered politically and culturally impotent in the face of the Hebraic forces of darkness that have vanquished them? Oh, and then we might do well to remind those driven to apoplexy by their current dispossession of the standard articulated by their fearless leader. Far from being a horrible injustice, according to that standard, said dispossession would be ineluctably legitimate simply because it happened. The notion of might makes right would validate their subordination to those Jews, obviously smarter and more capable than they, who had defeated them in such a splendid and totalizing manner.
And again, I do not assume these arguments proper, because I do not assume that winning is its own moral principle. But Richard Spencer does, and so long as he does, he is admitting that in the end his movement is dedicated to total war against anyone he and his do not deem white. His is not a movement of intellectual and moral principle. It is a movement of conquest, domination and control, which seeks power for power’s sake—an entirely fascist precept, incapable of existing side by side with any pretense to democratic norms or institutions. If we are to fight it, we must understand this. His is a movement that, unchecked, cannot lead to anything other than mass violence and the complete extirpation of those seen as standing in its way. If might makes right—and it does in the worldview of white nationalists—they cannot be expected to accept a partial victory (as they did in the past) and not see it through to the end. Their goals, however much they try and hide them, are genocidal. They must simply be stopped.
Tim Wise is an antiracist educator and essayist. The author of seven books on racial inequity, his Twitter and Facebook pages are both @timjacobwise