The threat of violent “white power” terrorism is real. This week on Intercepted: In the aftermath of the massacre of 50 children and adults at two mosques in New Zealand, two Muslim journalists discuss Islamophobia, the mainstreaming of anti-Muslim bigotry, and the motive of the shooter. Guardian columnist Nesrine Malik talks about the “ghoulish routine” in the media and among politicians that increasingly emerges in the aftermath of massacres of Muslims by white supremacists. The Intercept’s Murtaza Hussain explains why, as a nonwhite Western Muslim, he felt compelled to analyze the “manifesto” of the shooter. He argues that the shooter’s “writings reflect a worldview that is not just confined to the dark corners of the internet but is openly expressed in media and politics.” University of Chicago historian Kathleen Belew, author of “Bring the War Home: The White Power Movement and Paramilitary America,” discusses the history of white power movements and why she draws a distinction between white power and white supremacy. She also rejects the label “lone wolf” for the perpetrators of these massacres and argues that they are united in their heinous cause.
Jon Heder as Napoleon Dynamite: Dang.
Beto O’Rourke: Amy and I are happy to share with you that I’m running to serve you as the next president of the United States of America.
[“Some Say Love” by LeAnn Rimes plays.]
BO: This is a defining moment of truth for this country and for every single one of us.
Lisa Kennedy: Beto O’Dork.
David Asman: Beto O’Dork.
LK: No, Beta. He’s a beta male.
Gayle King: Beto O’Rourke, the latest Democrat to join the presidential race. This is his first TV interview since announcing his campaign.
GK [in interview]: Why shouldn’t voters be concerned about voting for you with your lack of experience?
JH: I don’t even have any good skills. You know, like nunchuck skills, bow hunting skills, computer hacking skills. Girls only want boyfriends who have great skills.
GK: Are you from the Medicare-for-all?
JH: What? That’s a pretty good idea.
GK: President Trump has already weighed in on your candidacy. He said this about you: “He’s got a lot of hand movement.”
JH: Such an idiot.
GK: Is he crazy or is that just the way he acts?
JH: Yes. Probably the best that I know of.
Jeremy Scahill: This is Intercepted.
JS: I’m Jeremy Scahill, coming to you from the offices of The Intercept in New York City. And this is episode 87 of Intercepted.
Reporter: — White nationalism is a rising threat around the world?
Donald J. Trump: I don’t really. I think it’s a small group of people that have very, very serious problems. I guess if you look at what happened in New Zealand, perhaps that’s a case. I don’t know enough about it yet. They’re just learning about the person and the people involved. But it’s certainly a terrible thing, terrible thing.
JS: Despite what Donald Trump may say or tweet, countries around the world are witnessing the rise of violent, far-right, white power movements that have as their goal eradicating non-white people from the globe. And they have among their allies and promoters people in governments, in Europe, in the United States and elsewhere in the world. Later on in this program, we’re going to be talking to a historian who has studied the evolution of white power movements in the United States and what that can teach us about the massacre of 50 people at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. That professor, Kathleen Belew of the University of Chicago, argues that it is a mistake to portray these white terrorists as lone wolves.
Kathleen Belew: The longer legacy of leaderless resistance has been that this movement has disappeared as a movement. And what happens is that we’re not able to sort of create a public understanding of this as a coherent, connected set of events with a coherent political ideology.
JS: We are also going to be hearing from my Intercept colleague journalist Murtaza Hussain. He read the shooter’s 74 page so-called manifesto.
Murtaza Hussain: You know, it very clearly struck me that this guy is not crazy. [These] are not the words of somebody who’s a maniac. It’s somebody with a very coherent and well-thought-out ideology who thought through the aftermath of the attack. He thought about the context of it and he made a very calculated decision.
JS: In the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, there was an immediate uptick in anti-Muslim rhetoric, hate crimes spiked, and the U.S. went to war against “radical Islamic terrorism.” Nearly two decades later, this spin has become, in the eyes of many U.S. political figures, set in stone policy, a view that ultimately leads to the demonization of Islam as a religion. We have in Donald Trump a president who has openly espoused sympathy for white supremacists, he has attempted to ban Muslims from entering the United States because they are Muslim. And he has said he supports the killing of the families of suspected terrorists.
DJT: Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.
DJT [on Fox & Friends]: You have to take out their families. When you get these terrorists, you have to take out their families. They care about their lives, don’t kid yourself.
Ainsley Earhardt: Mr. Trump.
DJT: When they say they don’t care about their lives, you have to take action —
JS: Trump doesn’t talk about all victims equally. And he has consistently refused to apply the gutter talk that he engages in when the shooter is a Muslim to white people who commit acts of terrorism or when the victims are Muslims. In fact, Trump constantly denies the very facts that the whole world is witness to, including the fact that extremist, white supremacist violence is on the rise.
DJT: But not all of those people were neo-Nazis, believe me. Not all of those people were white supremacists. I think there’s blame on both sides. You look at both sides, I think there’s blame on both sides.
DJT [at rally]: I got the white supremacists, the neo-Nazis. I got them all. Let’s see. KKK? We have KKK. I got ’em all. So they’re having a hard time, so what did they say, right? “It should’ve been sooner. He’s a racist. It should’ve been sooner” OK, so it should’ve been —
JS: This type of rhetoric coming from the president of the United States is not to be misunderstood. White supremacy is being actively defended and justified by this administration. And, let’s be honest: confronting right-wing violent extremism and white supremacist violence and terror are not a U.S. priority. Here’s former FBI counterterrorism agent Ali Soufan on resources allocated to fighting white supremacy.
Ali Soufan: We see an increasing threat emerging in the United States and in Europe. However, far fewer resources are devoted to combating this threat, at least in the United States. I think our European partners have been focusing on that more. However, unfortunately, in the United States, law enforcement, the FBI, joint terrorism task forces have been doing a good job. But it’s local in nature. It’s not part of a wider federal conversation that’s happening in Washington on how to deal with these kinds of things.
Columnist Nesrine Malik on the Media’s Response to New Zealand Attacks
JS: To kick off today’s show, we’re going to look at the bigger picture of how Islamophobia and the way that Muslim lives are discussed in the aftermath of these mass killings. There’s a pattern emerging where the thoughts and prayers offered for Muslims is increasingly followed by a “but.” And it is what comes after that “but” that my first guest argues we must recognize and confront. Nesrine Malik is a columnist for The Guardian newspaper in London. Nesrine, welcome to Intercepted.
Nesrine Malik: Pleasure. Thank you for having me.
JS: Now, in The Guardian, you wrote a piece titled “Until Christchurch I thought it was worth debating with Islamophobes. Not anymore.” What struck you about this massacre at these two mosques and the way that it’s talked about in broader society?
NM: There was something distinctly different about the response to this one, in terms of the mainstream press and commentary. And the main distinction was that people immediately began, not everyone of course, but those that usually are not, sort of, the “thoughts and prayers” type contingent immediately tried to come out with tempering language and saying this is a terrible thing, but we must not allow this to chill us from criticizing Islam or Muslims. And I thought that was really unusual. I hadn’t really seen that before. It was a response that was usually restricted to the right-wing press in the U.K. in particular, but it had become a mainstream position along with the sympathy and the kind of condolences. There was an immediate chaser to that which is “but let’s not let this get in the way of legitimate concerns and criticism of Islam.”
JS: You’re obviously in London right now. How has the anti-Islam or anti-immigrant rhetoric and the policies, how have they taken shape in the U.K. over the last years or even decades?
NM: It’s been remarkable actually how quickly things have changed even when one knew that they were going to change. I’ve been writing for about 10 years now before Islamophobia became fashionable. It was sort of an online troll position where people coalesced around new atheists and Richard Dawkins and Bill Maher in the U.S., as well. There was this sort of strange lefty, liberal, atheist Islamophobia.
Bill Maher: Is it a religion of peace? You know, I don’t know. I have not read the Quran in its original. When you read the translation, there are many, many, many passages that are not peaceful at all that are about killing the infidel and so forth. There are many passages like that in the Bible too, not as many and we don’t take it seriously. That’s the difference. We blow off our religions.
NM: And it then escalated very quickly and the velocity increased, I would say in the past five years where we’ve gone from Islamophobia being something you saw on online forums, on comment threads, below-the-line on articles, and on kind of slightly quirky debating programs to mainstream politicians, mainstream columnists, mainstream news programs that would host Islamophobic figures. So very quickly, it has become a kind of integrated part of mainstream popular culture and parallel to that, there was a hardening of immigration policy by the conservative government over the past 10 years under the leadership of Theresa May when she was head of the Home Office.
Theresa May: We want to ensure that only legal migrants have access to the labor market, free health services, housing, bank accounts, and driving licenses. And this is not just about making the U.K. a more hostile place for illegal migrants, it is also about fairness.
NM: And that anti-immigration ideology — which is very much a right-wing, conservative party ideology — became tied into Islamophobia as well.
JS: One of the reasons I wanted to talk to you and there were several, this piece that you wrote in The Guardian — and I know that you’ve been coming under fire but also, I think a lot of people really appreciated you saying what needed to be said — and I just want to read the opening line of this for people and ask you to expand on it. You write: “If you’ve been paying attention, you’ll know that there is now a genre of response protocol that is followed after attacks on Muslims. It blows dog whistles even as carnage is unfolding. A ghoulish routine has become established.”
NM: In this particular instance, I was speaking about the kind of prestigious, what we call the broadsheets in the U.K., not the tabloids and their representatives in the television and radio politocracy. And that response is always “this is a terrible thing, but.” There is always a “but.” There is always a qualification either that the attacker was someone who was isolated that we cannot link to any other wider phenomenon. So, to trivialize and minimize the issue or to say, but we have to remember that the original and bigger problem is Muslims and immigration and Islamic terrorism. And so it’s a condemnation of the attack and then an immediate dilution of the condemnation and that serves two purposes. It just removes victimhood from Muslims and says “Well, maybe these particular Muslim didn’t have it coming but some Muslim, somewhere does and these ones just kind of you know, were in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
But the second thing it does is that it makes it very hard for people to pin down Islamophobic sentiments because they did say this is terrible they did condemn it. There’s one particular pundit in the UK who spent three hours on her radio show talking to relatives of victims and in the same breath came on social media and said: “But we have to remember, you know, this is not Islamophobia because Islamophobia is about chilling criticism of Islam.” So, these two things at the same time means that people reserve the right to be Islamophobic while speaking at a fork tongue about it, which makes talking to them incredibly difficult because they’re not being honest.
JS: The 74-page manifesto of, so-called manifesto of this gunman makes reference to Anders Breivik, the Norwegian mass shooter and his manifesto and then Dylann Roof, who killed nine people in a black church in South Carolina. What are your thoughts on the transnational elements of what this shooter had in his so-called manifesto, but also the linkage between these seemingly unconnected individuals and the way we talk about them as lone wolves?
NM: So, this is something I think has blindsided people and they’re just beginning to come to terms with the fact that this is a far more organized global movement. And I think that the reason for that is purely because white people who fixate on identity politics of other people, of others don’t see themselves as motivated by identity concerns. And if there is a Muslim terrorist or if there is a black terrorist or there’s a brown terrorist, his or her motivations are always ascribed this very coherent ideology because others, non-white people, others have barbaric, backward religions and ideologies that they function on, that they are motivated by. But the perception that white people can be motivated by the same things and it’s remarkable the similarity between the sort of self-aggrandizing narratives of Islamic radical martyrdom, and now militant white supremacist martyrdom. The fact that you know, these two are similar blows people’s minds because you know, white people are just a bit more evolved than that.
And if you look at the similarities particularly striking over the past couple of years with the Internet is that what motivates a lot of Islamic radicalism, particularly with young men, is this sort of being held aloft as a martyr or a hero and being eulogized. And this is exactly what these white supremacist, assassins, and killers want. You know, they have organized manifestos. They record videos. They really enjoy the aftermath of it all. There is a religious aspect to it which is you become a warrior in service of a group cause. But we don’t analyze things in that way because you know other people are lesser and less evolved and have these motivations, whereas white people are more evolved and if they do behave that way, it must be some like isolated nut job.
And this is where the fixation on identity politics, particularly on the left, really frustrates me because I’m just like, it’s all identity politics. And if anything white identity politics has been turned a blind eye to. There are statistics actually that over the past 20, 30 years that the FBI has allocated, you know, a huge amount of money to fighting Islamic radicalism and almost none to fighting right-wing white supremacist activism or activity. And there was a report in the New York Times like six months ago saying “We missed it.”
Michael Barbaro: Despite repeated warnings over the past two decades, federal law enforcement officials have ignored the threat of violence from right-wing extremists. Now, they have no idea how to stop it.
NM: And now, they kind of can’t contain it. But it wasn’t only the authorities that missed it the media missed it, as well.
JS: As we wrap up, I have two more questions I wanted to ask you about. One, in an article about attacks on representative Ilhan Omar, you wrote the following: “She’s a Muslim, and a Muslim’s place in western public life must always be subject to scrutiny, her opinions are distorted into a sinister shape. The aim is to suggest she is simply too far beyond the pale to hold a position of responsibility.” What strikes you about the criticisms and attacks on Ilhan Omar?
NM: It’s a strange position to be in, to kind of watch all this stuff unfold and expect it to and know it’s going to get worse but still get shocked when it does. I was very shocked by the openness of the attacks on Ilhan Omar and you know, people basically just stopped short of saying we don’t want a Muslim in government. We don’t want a Muslim in a political position.
We are in a position now where if you are a Muslim in any public position. Even if you don’t — I don’t particularly, I don’t wear a hijab. I’m not particularly, you know, you wouldn’t know I was Muslim by looking at me, but the moment that people realized I’m speaking from a Muslim perspective not even as a practicing Muslim necessarily, from Muslim perspective, there’s suspicions about my motivations. What do I think of gay people? Do I believe in this? Do I support ISIS? And I think that there’s just no way you can win that discussion because you’re just constantly apologizing, and constantly explaining and constantly distancing yourself.
And so what I think Ilhan has been doing has been great, which is sort of apologizing when she needs to apologize where she feels like she has fallen into a trap, where she said something that was you know, slightly could be construed as anti-Semitic, et cetera. But I think she’s playing a blinder actually in that she is not leaning in to any of the other allegations or trying to defend Islam or say do you know Islam is a religion of peace? And do you know how many Muslims you know, commit terrorist acts vis-a-vis? All that needs to stop, you know, we’ve spent years doing that. Muslims in the public space have spent years trying to explain the sort of distance between radical Islam and the average Muslim which is huge and I think she’s done a very good job in maintaining that line, but I just don’t how tenable it is. I don’t know how long she can go on with these sort of daily attacks without her defanging her a little bit and making her afraid to say anything. Because the moment she opens her mouth someone tries to construe it as you know, some Muslim barbarism.
JS: You’re writing from such a clear perspective. You are arguing against a sort of mob mentality that’s taken hold in countries around the world. What is it like to be, you know, a Muslim woman journalist who is taking on these issues in a very direct way? I imagine you get a lot of vile hate mail. Just share part of what it is like for you to be in the public discourse and how you’re received.
NM: The past few days really wore me down because I just felt so dispirited by this qualified response that I hadn’t really heard before in the mainstream and I thought God, we can’t even have this. We can’t even have a moment of sanctity once people have been killed. We can’t even have a moratorium where people can just say this is terrible and be quiet. We have to desecrate it now by still talking about Islamophobia and how it’s a fiction and how we shouldn’t stop criticizing Muslim ideas. That really knocked me for six. It really affected me and I was surprised by that because I just thought you know, I thought I was used to this kind of stuff but this was a bit of a curveball.
So, emotionally it’s been hard, but the other thing that I really struggle with is the amount of time wasted talking about this stuff. The amount of time I waste writing about and explaining — and this is why my last piece, I was just like I’m done doing this because you know, we’re getting nowhere — the time I spent trying to make nuanced arguments to try and tell people what was happening, to try and stop people from slip-sliding into this terrible situation that we’re in and then, you know trying to parse the freedom of speech fallacies and the political correctness fallacies and the identity politics fixation and the calling out people on the left as well for being complicit and lazy-thinking about this but then also challenging the right. Kind of having no friends, really. I just felt like that was just a humongous waste of time and I’m a journalist. I’m not a Muslimsplainer, you know.
And I want to write about Brexit and Trump and the economy and other things I’m massively interested in. And so the main thing that I’m surprised at actually is as someone who is relatively secular in their outlook, that I’ve spent so much of my career defending a religion that I just happened to be born in. I realized very early on that it was not about religion, that it was about racism and it was about xenophobia and it was going to turn into something nasty and racialized. So, it’s a combination of being slightly emotionally worn down by the kind of harrowing experience of seeing it all unfold, inexorably before your very eyes. And the second thing is realizing that you know, you are kind of stuck doing this way more than you would like to as a professional.
JS: I do hope that people dig into the body of your work. You have such an important voice in broader society, and just on a personal level, I want to thank you for joining us, but also for having the courage and the backbone to say it like it is. Nesrine Malik, thanks so much for being with us on Intercepted.
NM: Thank you so much for those words. It’s a pleasure. Thank you.
JS: Nesrine Malik is a columnist for the Guardian newspaper in London. You can find her on twitter @NesrineMalik.
Murtaza Hussain Analyses the Alleged Christchurch Shooter’s Manifesto
JS: As the shooter in New Zealand mowed down 50 adults and children at two separate Mosques in Christchurch last week, he live-streamed his massacre on Facebook. He also published a harrowing and rambling 74-page statement to further publicize his attack and to advocate his white supremacist ideology. The statement describes Donald Trump as a “symbol of white supremacy” and its author echoes the language of the anti-immigrant rhetoric that we’ve heard over and over from Trump and other right-wing leaders across the world.
DJT: It’s an invasion like you’ve never seen before…
We have an invasion of drugs, invasion of gangs, invasion of people and it’s unacceptable.
DJT [at rally]: No nation can allow its borders to be over-run and that’s an invasion. I don’t care what they say. I don’t care what the fake media says. That’s an invasion of our country.
[Crowd chants “Get them out!”]
JS: The Christchurch shooter admitted to being radicalized on the internet, he seemed kind of proud of it, and he said he acted in this way to “show the invaders that our lands will never be their lands, our homeland is our own and that, as long as a white man still lives, they will NEVER conquer our lands and they will never replace our people.”
My colleague at The Intercept, reporter Murtaza Hussein pored over the shooter’s so-called manifesto and he has a piece now at The Intercept called, “New Zealand suspect’s actions are logical conclusion of calling immigrants ‘invaders.’”
Murtaza writes that as a non-white Western Muslim, he felt compelled to analyze the words of the shooter. He concludes that his writings “reflect a worldview that is not just confined to the dark corners of the internet, but is openly expressed in media and politics.”
Jacinda Ardern: It is clear that this can now only be described as a terrorist attack. From what we know, it does appear to have been well planned. Two explosive devices attached to suspects’ vehicles —
Murtaza Hussein: So you know, when this happened a lot of people asked me “are you going to write about it?” And I was like, no, I’m not going to write about it because when something is very disturbing, you don’t want to confront it, actually. You want to just say “OK, something happened. He was crazy. Let’s move on” which is a normal human inclination. But I think it’s very important to engage deeply with what these people are saying whether it’s ISIS or individuals such as the New Zealand shooter to not just dismiss this as some crazy talk and put it aside. We have to take it very seriously. This is what a significant number of people believe and those who have the willpower to do it are going to act on it. And every mass killing in history has started with talk. So, we can’t just dismiss talk and say that that’s the end of it. We need to address it very forthrightly.
So I got a copy of his manifesto and I read it and I watched the video of the shooting and you know, it very clearly struck me that this guy is not crazy. This is not the words of somebody who’s a maniac. It’s somebody with a very coherent and well-thought-out ideology who thought through the aftermath of the attack. Thought about the context of it and he made a very calculated decision and he was counting on the support of a lot of people either now or in the future because he expects to at some point be viewed as a liberator. And as I said, they’re not crazy beliefs. They’re evil beliefs that he’s taken to a radical conclusion, but it’s something that I hear all the time in more polite form from other people in the news and in politics.
DJT: I think Islam hates us and we can’t allow people coming into this country who have this hatred.
Bill Maher: Because it’s the only religion that acts like the mafia that will fucking kill you.
Ben Shapiro: The myth of the tiny radical Muslim minority is just that, it’s a myth.
MH: This individual was not inspired to do this in a vacuum. He had influences and when you read his manifesto, it’s very clear what those influences are, in the sense that they have the same preoccupations and the same tone of racial paranoia and racial threat. In the United States, for instance, there’s this guy Steve King, the congressman, he openly is using, without even any coding, the rhetoric of this manifesto, of the “great replacement.”
Steven King: We have to do something to increase our birth rate or the vacuum that’s created will be filled by people that don’t believe in our values here in western civilization, and we’re seeing it happen.
MH: The debate over immigration in western countries has become so fevered in the last several years that people openly discuss this as a militarized problem. If you look in the United States, the talk is about deploying the military to the southern border, building a giant wall evocative of the Great Wall of China to keep out invaders. That’s not something you do for an immigration problem, bureaucratic issue to deal with. This is the language of war and it by extension, it’s the language of ethnic cleansing and potentially genocide.
DJT: We’re on track for a million illegal aliens to rush our borders. People hate the word invasion, but that’s what it is. It’s an invasion of drugs and criminals and people. We have no idea who they are, but we capture them because border security is so good, but they’re put in a very bad position.
MH: You’re telling people that your country is being invaded by hordes of foreigners who are here to rape and pillage them if not confronted. The shooter, his actions are a rational response to that. You know, reading his manifesto, I didn’t find it to be full of original thought. I found it to be very derivative of the thought of people that we see in here all the time in the public.
Anderson Cooper: So you trust Muslims in America?
DJT: Do I what?
Anderson Cooper: Trust Muslims in America?
DJT: Many of them, I do. Many of them, I do. And some, I guess we don’t. Some I guess, we don’t. We have a problem and we can try and be very politically correct and pretend we don’t have a problem. But Anderson, we have a major, major problem. This is, in a sense, this is a war —
AC: So, special patrols in Muslim neighborhoods?
DJT: Excuse me. Nobody wants to call it a war. It’s a war.
MH: In his manifesto, he picks data points or certain events from history and stitches them into a narrative which makes sense to him in the present moment. And this is not something that you do if you learn history from, you know, studying published books or going to school. He mentions himself that he never did well in school and he left at quite a young age. But it is the sort of history that you get from polemicists and a lot of these polemics you see on web sites like Reddit and 4chan and they’re sort of, ad hoc histories, which are meant to make a racial case for violent action in the present day. You know, it’s not a history that you learn in school. It’s a history that people are making up on their own and sharing on the internet. But the fact is when people don’t study history in a systemic way, they still need a way to make sense of the world and they’re going to pick it up from wherever they can get it from and they’re getting it from very vile sources.
The moment that Tarrant snapped, as per his manifesto, is during a trip to France where he was mortified by seeing the faces of people he called invaders which presumably refers to minority populations of France, Sub-Saharan Africans and North Africans. Now, the thing is Tarrant is not from France. He’s from Australia.
He’s from an entirely different part of the planet and the people he sees in France, he sees them as invaders based on his own racially, exclusive-ist way of looking at the world. But if you know the history of France, these people have been there for generations. And he mentions a very key emotional moment in his manifesto where he drives past a cemetery full of people who perished in the world wars that France fought over the past century and he sees these rows of graves and he breaks down in tears. What he doesn’t know is that the free French army, which liberated France under de Gaulle’s command during World War II was comprised mostly of colonial soldiers, people who were black or brown.
So, you know for him, his understanding of history of just a pure white homeland which was besmirched in recent years by the new phenomenon of people of color arriving there is completely ahistorical. And France wouldn’t have been liberated without the people he considers to be invaders that he drives around today seeing.
The very key to Tarrant’s worldview is that people are not in the right places. So, if you are the wrong skin color or if you are brown skin or black skin and you’re living in the United States or living in France, you somehow have gotten separated from your true home. What he wants is to sort people back into where they belong and using violence absolutely, if necessary. But the idea that we any of us have a real home to go back to is — other than the place that we live or grew up — is completely spurious. So, what he’s asking for can only be genocidal. It doesn’t make sense to anyone who’s engaged with the world more deeply than he has.
Maybe 20 years ago, the whole idea of any of this happening, it wouldn’t even make sense, like livestream, post on social media a massacre. The words wouldn’t have even existed to describe this. But now, you know, people are very impressionable and there’s something called mimetic behavior, so, the vast majority of us will be mortified and horrified by what we saw. Regardless of our politics, it’s something that’s deeply offensive. But in every case, there’s a small number of people who see this and has similarly nihilistic feelings and thinks that this is excellent. And you can see their comments online. Not everybody’s alienated by this, many people are gratified by what they saw. At this point, it would be a mistake to dismiss that as idle talk.
JS: Murtaza Hussein is my colleague at The Intercept. He’s an excellent journalist. You can follow him on Twitter at @MazMHussein. You can find his article entitled, “New Zealand Suspect’s Actions Are Logical Conclusion of Calling Immigrants ‘Invaders’” that’s at TheIntercept.com. He spoke to our producer Jack D’Isidoro.
Historian Kathleen Belew Discusses the History of White Power Movements
JS: Donald Trump is categorically wrong when he says that white nationalism is a “very small group of people.” The data that we have available from organizations like the Anti-Defamation League, or the U.S. government’s own numbers, all point to significant increases in extremist violence against minorities across the board. Assaults in 2016 against Muslims in the United States far surpassed the 2001 level. Most terrorist attacks in the U.S. in 2017 were motivated by right-wing ideologies. These right-wing extremist attacks are on the rise globally as well, and the ideologies that connect these seemingly disparate violent incidents need to be understood as part of the dominant narrative. That history and context is in desperately short supply in the broader media and political discourse.
With our next guest, historian Kathleen Belew, we’re going to get into the rise of the white power movement, and why she draws a distinction between white power and white supremacy. Belew has traced the history of white power groups from the end of the Vietnam war, through the decades, to the climactic bombing in Oklahoma City in 1995. She has an important new book out on this subject. It is called: “Bring the War Home: The White Power Movement and Paramilitary America.” She is also an assistant professor of history at the University of Chicago. Kathleen Belew, welcome to Intercepted.
Kathleen Belew: Thank you.
JS: Did you read the manifesto of this individual in New Zealand?
KB: I did, yes.
JS: Describe how he talks about Donald Trump in that manifesto.
KB: He basically says he doesn’t agree with Trump kind of as a political leader and he doesn’t see himself as a conservative but that he does see Trump as sort of a symbol of renewed white identity. On the one hand, I think Trump is a symbol for many of these forces because of his sort of, unapologetic embrace of some of the issues that they hold in common.
DJT: We’re going to be signing today and registering national emergency and it’s a great thing to do because we have an invasion of drugs, invasion of gangs, invasion of people and it’s unacceptable.
KB: On the other hand, I think that the manifesto shows us that this isn’t a conservative movement and that sometimes, I think, this is confusing because the white power has so much ideological common ground with conservatism that people incorrectly lump them all together. But I think, one way to think about this is that some of the social issues that conservatives and white power activists agree on simply mean different things to those two groups. So, if you take, for instance, issues like opposing abortion, opposing LGBT rights, supporting white separatist or white kind of freedom of association policies or opposing immigration — to white power activists, these issues all have to do with a looming fear of racial annihilation. The idea that white people will produce insufficient numbers of children, that they are threatened by a hyper-fertile population of people of color in and outside of the United States or their home nation, and that they’re under threat by immigration because of this fear of being overrun. Now, it’s not difficult to see how that ideology can find kind of a sympathetic set of words and phrases in the more mainstream conservative movement where we see people talking about invasion, about fears about maintaining the white race and white culture in direct and indirect ways.
Tucker Carlson: The left is fighting for an all-powerful state. A state that is so powerful that you couldn’t really responsibly give it over to your political opponents. Democracy is a threat to their plans. Add new voters and replace the old ones. That is the plan. They’re saying it out loud. What Democrats overtly want is the votes of non-citizen children and criminals. They say that.
KB: But the thing is that white power activism is not interested in conserving an existing way of life or even turning back the clock to something further back. I think the radical nature of what these activists would want to achieve could not be accomplished in any electoral politics that I could see from the present.
JS: Are all of these incidents, movements, the rise of some politicians in Europe and then this increase that we’ve seen in hate crimes in the United States — anti-Semitic attacks, white supremacist attacks — are they all bound by some common thinking? Do they coordinate or is it that they share parts of an ideology that results in the kinds of overtly violent acts that we see in Christchurch or in the synagogue massacre in Pittsburgh? What links them together?
KB: I think what I would say that the history can show us about this particular moment is that in the earlier period that I study, we can see two concurrent kinds of mobilization coming out of this movement. One of them is above ground, public facing, very performative. We can think about things like David Duke wearing nice suits and going on talk shows.
Phil Donahue: What is your title?
David Duke: Grand wizard and national director.
PD: You are grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan?
PD: He’s such a nice looking boy.
KB: People sort of mounting political campaigns successfully and unsuccessfully, those draw in a lot of members. And then, at the same time, those same activists were also involved in fomenting a violent underground that included Klan paramilitary training camps, assassination of enemies, the theft and distribution of millions of dollars to groups all around the country, and getting online on early computer network message boards in order to sort of begin the work of social network activism even before the rest of us figured out what that was.
So, in the archive what we can see is that those two waves of activity happened concurrently and included the same people. The other thing is that this movement has been using a strategy since the early 1980s called leaderless resistance and the idea there is to organize in cells that can act in common cause and towards the same sort of targets without ties with one another or ties with movement leadership.
Now, that strategy was implemented in part because activists were really frustrated with how many undercover ATF and FBI agents infiltrated the movement in the civil rights period and in part, to stymie court prosecution. But the longer legacy of leaderless resistance has been that this movement has disappeared as a movement. It’s been able to present itself in many cases as the work of one lone gunman here, a lone wolf there, a few bad apples over there. And what happens is that we’re not able to sort of create a public understanding of this as a coherent, connected set of events with a coherent political ideology. You can think of an act like the bombing of Oklahoma City which is the largest mass violence on the American mainland between Pearl Harbor and 9/11 and still is understood by most people as the work of one or a few actors rather than as the coordinated violence that is the execution of this long and broad-based social movement.
JS: In this so-called manifesto that this shooter released, he expressed hope that the massacre would spark a gun control movement in the United States to intensify its actions and that it could ultimately lead to a civil war. And you point out that that’s an idea that is torn directly from the pages of “The Turner Diaries.” Can you explain “The Turner Diaries” and the significance that it has within the white power movement?
KB: It’s a dystopian or utopian novel that imagines how a small number of dedicated white power guerrilla warriors could sort of unseat world powers and eventually seize control of first, the nation and the world. And the novel sort of puts forward a bunch of strategies about how to do this.
William Pierce: Hello, I’m William Pierce and I’ll be reading my book “The Turner Diaries” to you: “Today, it finally began. After all these years of talking and nothing but talking we have finally taken our first action. We are at war with the system and it is no longer a war of words.”
KB: It becomes sort of a manual, an ideological text, and even a lodestar of the movement that really does join a lot of people together. It came out in the late 70s and early 80s and appears in a whole bunch of significant places within the history of this movement including things like Timothy McVeigh had it with him.
WP: I’ve said that over and over again that I do not approve of the Oklahoma City bombing.
Interviewer: Why not?
WP: It does not make sense under the present conditions that we have when there is no group capable of actually taking on the federal government and defeating it. But I do not believe that we are in a revolutionary phase yet. I believe that the people have a lot of waking up and understanding to do first. And perhaps if the people do wake up and understand what’s happening and decide to take a hand to halt this process, to change the course of history, we may be able to avoid the sort of unpleasantness that I imagined might take place in “The Turner Diaries.”
KB: Now, this book answers one fundamental question that many people have about this movement which is: how could a very small number of people possibly hope to overthrow the most militarized superstate in the history of the world being the modern United States and then also hope to kind of foment this transnational white power movement? And it lays out a number of strategies by which this might happen. But the novel opens with exactly the scene that this gunman references which is the kind of aftermath of a mass seizure of firearms which people see as kind of a moment of awakening for a broad white populace. So, this is the fundamental thing to understand about “The Turner Diaries” and about actions like the one in Christchurch.
The violence itself is not supposed to be the end point of this kind of a political action. The violence is supposed to awaken a broader white public to rise up in guerrilla race war against first, the nations and then, kind of, the rest of the world. And we should be really clear that the future envisioned by “The Turner Diaries” is fundamentally exceedingly violent. What happens in the book eventually is that the white revolution seizes control of the United States and from there is able to seize control of the world and the end game of this, in the novel, is imagined as a total annihilation of all racial others, all of who they call race traitors who are people who are in interracial marriages and other enemies and then, annihilation of all populations of color around the world.
JS: Why do you make a point to call it white power movement versus white nationalism or white supremacy?
KB: So there’s a couple of distinctions. The first one is that white supremacy is much bigger and much more common than what I’m calling white power activism. People might argue that huge percentages of our kind of systems of governance, our distribution of resources, different kinds of mechanisms that are routine in the United States are fundamentally white supremacist because of our nation’s history. White supremacy is also an ideology that’s shared by many people who don’t have extremist violent activism as their way of operating. So, we need a word that’s more discrete than that. And then the problem with white nationalism, white nationalism is correct from a technical standpoint. But the problem is that when you say white nationalism, I think a lot of people imagine a sort of overzealous patriotism and that comes from the idea that the nation that they’re talking about when they say white nationalism is going to be the United States or New Zealand or Australia. Actually the nation imagined by white nationalism is all white people who are kind of racial compatriots. They mean the Aryan nation, the transnational white polity that they want to achieve first, by seizing white homelands and then, by race war.
JS: In the 1990s, there was a lot of attention being paid to these militias whether it was in Idaho or the Michigan militia and you also had this rise in what came to be known as the radical religious right. We just had eight years of the Barack Obama presidency and now you have Trump who on the one hand is advocating policies that are in sync with a lot of these white power movements not just in the U.S. but elsewhere — whether it’s his border wall or the way that he talks about how police should treat suspects, the way that he talks about gun violence in Chicago. But can we draw a connection between a rise in interest in these groups or activity by these kinds of individuals and the presidency of Clinton or the presidency of Obama and then being followed up by Donald Trump? Is there any historical pattern that you’ve noticed in the context of U.S. politics that we can say well this seems to be the breeding ground for then an uptick in stories or reporting or activity about these groups and individuals?
KB: Yes, and I think actually where we need to look is the second term of the Reagan administration.
Dan Rather: CBS News estimates that Ronald Reagan has been re-elected president. The question remains: how big a mandate is he likely to get?
KB: The last time we saw this big turn against the state was not under a Democratic president but was under a Republican president who arguably stood to bring some benefits to this movement. I mean, these were people in the movement who would benefit from many of Reagan’s policies and shared many components of worldview in common with him and with various parts of his constituency. So, the fact that that turn against the state happened during a conservative executive I think is very concerning for the present moment. And again, what we’re seeing now is not the kind of endpoint of what I would think of when I think about a wave of white power violence. I think we are seeing a sort of beginning point. I would expect larger and more coordinated attacks as we move forward.
JS: What have been the key moments that have reignited the white power movement outside of the United States?
KB: So, this is now a bit outside of my area of study. I think what I could tell you from the U.S. side is that I am seeing very clear moments where the U.S. movement as it formed in the 1980s and early 1990s is shaping the way that this activism is being carried out abroad. To that extent, I think it’s very important to note the extreme violence and paramilitarism of the movement in the United States as the form that we’re now seeing appear elsewhere. So, when you look at things like the Christchurch gunmen using the 14 words, which is the slogan about racial apocalypse, and the need for race war that is written by the former member of The Order, David Lane, who is a white power actor in the United States, things like that moving abroad have a very specific kind of meaning. Now, with all transnational flows this goes both into the United States and then out again so we can think about this as sort of, a complex process that is bringing people, information guns, tactics and of course, websites in and out of the country. But I think there’s something about the paramilitarism of the style of attack and the intensity of the weapons chosen that strike me in a way as very symbolically American.
JS: New Zealand’s political leaders including the head of state say they’re going to take drastic action to stop the access to the kinds of high-powered weaponry that were used in this in these shootings in Christchurch. What about the role of for lack of a better term the gun lobby in the United States and how it is viewed, the NRA specifically, by white power movements in America?
KB: This is such a great question and sadly, the evidence for writing that book is not available to historians. So, the NRA has not made its archives public. I hope that future historians would be able to look closely at that and think about the intersection between the NRA and the white power movement much like we’ve thought about the intersection between say the farms crisis and the white power movement or the evangelical groundswell and the white power movement. The NRA has cultural and rhetorical and personnel overlap with the white power movement but it’s impossible to sort of figure this out without the archive.
JS: You’ve said that by looking at far-right attacks or white power attacks as part of our larger movement rather than the lone wolf narrative that is constantly reinforced in the broader media when these shootings and massacres happen. How could that reframe public discourse and response if we look at it as you’re arguing as sort of part of a broader movement of a leaderless resistance? What would the response to a transnational white power movement look like?
KB: Here’s the thing that we could do: If we are able to say, OK, in the last six months, I see three similarly framed attacks, right? There’s the Tree of Life shooting at the Pittsburgh synagogue. There is this attempt by the Coast Guard officer to carry out this assassination list on political enemies. And now, we have this horrible event in New Zealand. The thing that unites them is the study of the perpetrators. But the thing that could happen if we understand them as connected is a unification of the people who are impacted and the different groups who are concerned about anti-Semitic violence, Islamophobic violence, political violence, and kind of the degradation of our civil discourse. If those communities all come together in understanding, I think that there is a profound hope there in uniting people and figuring out a different kind of response.
Now, I think that response would have to include everything from a fundamental change in our public understanding of what this is and how we understand the ideology that motivates it. It would have to include things like imagining how these people view the future and articulating some alternate visions. And I think it would also have to include things like juror education and prosecutor education and thinking about things like military policy and our definitions of terrorism and how we allocate resources to all of those different projects.
JS: From what you’ve studied about white power movements and the way that the state has responded to them or mass media respond to them, what lessons have you learned about the way that Islam is talked about in our society or the notion that we’re in this borderless global war on terror?
KB: So actually I have to go full historian on that question and take us all the way back to the 1920s because I think this is the easiest way to understand this particular thing. So, the Klan in the 20s is the kind of classic mainstream Klan. It’s the one with the well-known pictures of Klansmen marching down the National Mall wearing their robes and hoods but with their faces uncovered. It was mainstream and properly national. Their slogan was 100 percent America, right? So, people think about it as being anti-black and anti-Semitic, right? And it is that but if you look at the Klan in the 20s it’s also anti-immigrant, if you happen to be in the Northeast where there are a lot of immigrants. It’s anti-Catholic in Indiana because Notre Dame is in Indiana. It’s anti-Mexican on the U.S.-Mexico border and then, it’s anti-labor in the Pacific Northwest where there’s a lot of labor union movements.
So, what we learned from this and what white power activists learned from this too as they’re kind of using Klan strategy in formulating how they’re going to respond to threats of their moment, is that the Klan has always been organized around tacking to the prevailing public sentiment in order to mobilize people into joining. They’re willing to use this kind of flexible and opportunistic ideology to mobilize the prevailing public hatreds in order to bring people into their movement and foment violence. So, in the period of my study, you see a lot of anti-communist violence, a lot of anti-LGBT violence, a lot of anti-feminist discourse, right? Because those were kind of the mainframes available in the 80s. It makes perfect sense to me that now Islamophobia would be a popular kind of current to mobilize. But that to me, is actually the thing in common again is the perpetrators. And if we can focus there I think that’s where things could change.
JS: Kathleen Belew, a lot more left on the table but I encourage people to read your book. Thank you so much for joining us.
KB: Thank you for having me.
JS: Kathleen Belew is Assistant Professor of U.S. History at the University of Chicago. Her first book is, “Bring the War Home: The White Power Movement and Paramilitary America.” She’s on twitter at @kathleen_belew. That’s B-E-L-E-W.
And that does it for this week’s show. If you are not yet a sustaining member of Intercepted, log onto TheIntercept.com/join and join with the more than 3,000 other people who have already sustaining members. Intercepted is a production of First Look Media and The Intercept. Our producer is Jack D’Isidoro and our executive producer is Leital Molad. Laura Flynn is associate producer. Elise Swain is our assistant producer and graphic designer. Rick Kwan mixed the show. Transcription is done by Nuria Marquez Martinez. Our music, as always, was composed by DJ Spooky. Until next week, I’m Jeremy Scahill.