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Sotomayor, Birthers, and the Rise of White Nationalism

Eric Ward • Aug 10, 2009

Remember Y2K? The whole country was going to be plunged into barbarism because of a simple computer glitch. Millions of ordinary Americans stockpiled water and food in their basements and stayed home on New Year’s Eve shaking in fear.

It was December 1999 and there were four days left in the year. Phone calls from journalists just wouldn’t stop and they all wanted to know the same thing. “Would hate groups attempt to terrorize communities on Y2K?”

It was during a time when the Aryan Nations was attempting to establish a white nationalist homeland in Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Washington, and Wyoming- an idea they labeled the Northwest Imperative. I was part of a coalition confronting organized bigotry in the Pacific Northwest. Another faction of white nationalists calling themselves militias were also active in the region threatening public officials, environmental activists, and anyone else they deemed as second class citizens.

Earlier in the year (ten years ago today) on August 10th an Aryan Nations member by the name of Buford Furrow Jr. had gone on a shooting spree in Southern California wounding five individuals, including three young children, at a local Jewish community center. Furrow went on to murder a Filipino postal worker before turning himself into authorities.

Every time the phone rang I took a deep breath, a sip of coffee, and said “’hate groups’ will be doing exactly what I’m planning on doing New Year’s Eve.” “What’s that?” the journalist would ask going for the bait. I would quickly reply “staying at home, feet on the sofa, popping buttered popcorn, and watching Lawrence Welk.” While not a suitable quote, I wanted to share with journalists that the majority of the white nationalist’s in the United States could care less about Y2K. They were more interested in 2050.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau at the time, 2050 was the year when there would be no clear racial majority in the United States. The media (out of ignorance) and white nationalists (for propaganda value) liked to phrase 2050 as the period when “whites will be the minority in the U.S.” as if somehow on January 1, 2050 every minority community will somehow suddenly unify and decide to persecute those considered white.

The big story had nothing to do with Y2K. The real news item was that a shift was occurring. A shift that was taking the movement from the idea of “white supremacy” (i.e. whites are superior and therefore should be in charge) to “white nationalism” (i.e. whites are being victimized and need to create their own nation where they could be in charge). In the world view of white nationalists the U.S. was once theirs but no longer. Buchanan recently expressed the sentiment to Rachel Maddow on MSNBC thus:

“This has been a country built basically by white folks in this country who are 90 percent of the entire nation-in 1960, when I was growing up, Rachel-and the other 10 percent were African-American who had been discriminated against. That’s why.”

It is this belief that has been the lynchpin of many recent debates including the Sotomayor confirmation hearings. During the past month the blogosphere and broadcast news has been filled with discussions regarding the rise of the Birthers – a growing group of individuals allegedly concerned about President Obama’s place of birth. In actuality, the Birthers should be described as a political formation with the goal of convincing other whites that Obama is an “other” (i.e. not white) and therefore not American.

The recent disruptions at local town hall meetings discussing the Obama administration’s health care proposal has less to do with health care than who gets access (people of color need not apply). It’s not surprising that many of the comments made by those disrupting these public events quickly turned to anti-immigrant rants and conspiracies about whites facing martial law. Again underlying the protests was not opposition to health care but the belief that “white America” is under attack.

What to do about 2050 has created some divisions within the white nationalist movement on how best to proceed towards the goal of creating an all-white nation. Some argue that terror is the answer represented in the actions of Holocaust Memorial murderer James W. Von Brunn and anti-immigrant activist and killer Shawna Forde who held that killing religious and racial minorities was the answer.

Other white nationalist’s like Jared Taylor believe that the definition of whiteness should be expanded to include Jews and Catholics (or at least work with them as short term allies) while also attacking the concept of citizenship as established by the 14th Amendment to the Constitution.

Regardless of their strategic decisions, by far the best weapon of the white nationalist movement has been the unwillingness of liberals, conservatives, progressives and their respective institutions to reject the advances of white nationalism. Unlike Y2K the shift from white supremacy to white nationalism was successful. White nationalism is now mainstream, not because of its success as a movement, but due to our willingness to remain silent.

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