From white supremacy to white nationalism

This interview with Kathleen Belew was aired July 24, 2018.


I learned two important things from reading BRING THE WAR HOME: The White Power Movement and Paramilitary America by Kathleen Belew (2018).

One is how the Ku Klux Klan and other white racist organizations changed in the late 1970s and early 1980s from vigilantes upholding a racist order to revolutionaries and secessionists trying to overthrow an anti-racist order.

The other is that so much of what I thought of as isolated incidents, ranging from the murder of talk show host Alan Berg in 1984 to Timothy McVeigh’s bombing of the Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995, were in fact planned by a revolutionary movement.

Belew began her account with the story of a Klansman named Louis Beam who served in Vietnam as a helicopter gunner.  He regarded U.S. defeat in Vietnam as a betrayal engineered by Jews and Communists.  He and his like-minded friends regarded themselves as soldiers.  They regarded the war against Communism as the same thing as the war against racial integration and racial equality.

They obtained and stockpiled military ordnance, organized private militias and military training camps and enlisted as mercenaries in support of anti-Communist fighters in Africa and Central America.   The South African and Rhodesian governments made use of them, and so did the Central Intelligence Agency.

They saw no difference between killing Communists in Vietnam or Nicaragua and killing Communists in the USA.  Klansmen and Nazis joined forces in the shooting of Communist anti-Klan demonstrators in Greensboro, N.C., in 1979, resulting in the deaths of five white men and one black woman.

But at some point, they came to regard the U.S. government as hopelessly compromised.  The annual Aryan Nations World Conference at Hayden Lake, Idaho, announced a new organization called the Order, which would coordinate the Klan, Nazis and other white racist organizations, such as the Mountain Church, the White Patriot Party and the Covenant, the Sword and the Arm of the Lord (CSA).

Their new goal was to establish a separate white enclave and eventually to break up the United States and forcibly move whites, blacks and maybe other racial groups into separate areas, while deporting Jews to Israel.  Beam commented that carrying out this program might make the Third Reich seem mild in comparison.

Their idea was that African-Americans, being members of an inferior race, could not have more their civil rights on their own.  They thought that black people must have been aided by the Jews, whom they regarded as super-smart but evil.

Members of the Order swore to carry out “a sacred duty to do whatever is necessary to deliver our people from the Jew and bring total victory to the Aryan race.”

The Order’s plans included (1) paramilitary training, (2) robbery and counterfeiting to raise money, (3) purchase of military-grade weapons, (4) distribution of money and weapons to white power groups, (5) assassinations of enemies and informers and (6) a cell-type organization so that rank-and-file members only knew the names of members of their own group.

Beam’s vision was a “leaderless resistance,” in which there was no top-down chain of command, but a network of cells linked by Liberty Net, a computer network.  This was prior to the Internet, a time when computer networks were a novelty.

They got a lot of their ideas from U.S. Army training manuals on insurgency and counter-insurgency warfare, and their system of organization resembled the Communist fighters in Vietnam and the radical Muslim jihadists of a later era.

They got off to a strong start.  In a short time, they raised $4 million from robberies, including $3.6 million from a Brinks armored car robbery in Ukiah, California, in 1984.  They established training camps and arsenals, much of it with stolen U.S. military supplies.

They murdered anti-Klan talk show host Alan Berg, patrons and a clerk in a pornographic bookstore and at least one informant.  They plotted bombings of the Southern Poverty Law Center, a college ethnic studies center and various synagogues and homes of rabbis.

But they never fully carried out their program.  TV producer Norman Lear and SPLC leader Morris Dees were on their hit lists, for example.

I think that this was partly because the Federal Bureau of Investigation nipped the movement in the bud with investigations and arrests, even though the FBI was not as successful as hoped in getting convictions.

I also think that the intensity of white racism was dwindling, and that few racists were up for an armed showdown with the U.S. government

By the 1990s, white power activity had died down.  It was ignited again by the Ruby Ridge and Waco tragedies in 1992 and 1993 and by the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995.

U.S. law enforcement engaged in military-style sieges against a white separatist named Randall Weaver in Idaho and his family and against members of the Branch Davidians, a multi-racial cult based in Waco, Texas, none of which had threatened anyone.

The results were the fatal shootings of one of Weaver’s sons and his pregnant wife and the death by fire of 76 Branch Davidians, including 26 children.   Both sparked justified outrage at the federal government and gave new impetus to the white nationalist cause.

One of Timothy McVeigh’s purposes in bombing the Oklahoma City federal building was to take revenge for Ruby Ridge and Waco.  The fertilizer bomb he set off killed 167 people, plus a nurse who died on the scene when she was killed by falling debris.  HIs example sparked a number of copycat bombing attempts.

I long believed that McVeigh acted alone, but Belew provided evidence that he was part of a white nationalist cell, and went to his death by execution with his lips closed in order to protect this comrades.

I learned much that I hadn’t known from this book, but it didn’t cover everything.  She only reported on the underground white racist movement.  She didn’t cover legal activities, such as David Duke’s political campaigns.

There is little historical background in the book, and little about its implications for the present era.  That is an observation, not a criticism.  Belew accomplished what she set out to do.

The idea of a secessionist white racist nation lives on in the Alternative Right and other shadowy presences on the Internet.  White racist hate crimes and terrorist attacks still occur, many of them inspired by propaganda on TV and the Internet.  But I don’t know of anything that would suggest the existence of a coordinated terrorist movement such as Belew described.

I thank my friend Karl Abbott for suggesting this book.


Kathleen Belew on the Rise of White Power, an interview for Public Thinker.  ]Added 8/3/2019]

White Power by Thomas Meaney for the London Review of Books.  [Added 8/4/2019]  Hat tip to Bill Harvey.

Book Review: Bring the War Home by Kathleen Belew by Matthew N. Lyons for threewayfight.

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2 Responses to “From white supremacy to white nationalism”

  1. Fred (Au Naturel) Says:

    We live in frightening times. I refuse to be frightened by them.


  2. silverapplequeen Says:

    I lived in Niagara County & knew members of the McVeigh family & many of their friends. There are many white supremacists & Nazis in Niagara County & Orleans County & all across the rural areas of NY state & even in the city of Buffalo & other cities. I never thought that Timmy McVeigh acted alone. After living up there for almost fifteen years, I can tell you that there are many people who are onboard with all this shit, whether or not they will admit to it. Trump is NOT an odd-ball president & when he’s gone, things will NOT go “back to normal”. Things weren’t “normal” before Trump. The only difference now is that these people feel empowered & they are coming out into the sunlight from their “bunkers”. They are NOT going away. They hate everyone who doesn’t have lily-white skin & lily-white attitudes. Hatred is their mantra & they repeat their mantra with gusto & love.


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