White supremacists have never made a secret of their affection for Donald Trump. But since his election, they’ve grown ever more emboldened, holding rallies in Washington, D.C. and even planning their own “Deploraball” to ring in the new year.
This development comes as no surprise to Chip Berlet, an investigative journalist and academic specializing in right-wing movements who recently revealed to ProPublica why Trump’s rhetoric resonates so profoundly with these hate groups.
“The thing about coded language is that it’s heard differently by different audiences. So if you’re an angry farmer in Nebraska and someone talks about ‘international banks‘, you think Wall Street maybe. But if you’re in a white supremacist movement or wrapped up in conspiracy theories about money manipulation you think Jews.”
Bertlet, who co-authored “Right-Wing Populism: Too Close for Comfort,” hopes to put Trump’s crazed theories in historical context.
“The use of conspiratorial rhetoric and bigoted rhetoric targeting and demonizing ‘others’ is nothing new in American politics. It comes and goes in cycles that are not regular. So it’s not a pendulum. There’s no time frame.”
In Trumpland, psychology trumps reality, which helps explain how a candidate proposing one of the largest transfers of weatlh from the bottom to the top could effectively brand himself as a populist hero.
“People’s perceptions of their status are just as important as their actual status,” he argues. “If people have been pushed down the economic, social or political ladder, well, that’s real. If people feel they’ll be pushed down the ladder, that’s real, too.”
America’s nightmare is likely only just beginning. Bertlet expects the violence of the campaign season to continue apace, even if he believes white supremacists only consitute a few thousand Americans.
“If you scapegoat a group from a high public place for long enough, it’s inevitable that some people will act out on that belief and say, ‘If they’re so evil and they’re out to destroy America, why don’t we get them before they get us.”