In 2017, I wrote for the Richmond Times-Dispatch “What Should Americans Really Fear?” Because of recent local Ku Klux Klan activity, let’s revisit that question. While decent people despise the KKK, few know much about it or the white supremacist movement other than its members hate certain people. Whether it is cancer or white supremacists, to effectively fight, you must know your enemy.
The term “white supremacist” is an umbrella term, covering many different groups of varying ideologies. Some are secular (Nazis), others are atheist (Richard Spencer), and many religious (Ku Klux Klan). They frequently organize and behave similar to inner-city gangs in recruitment, initiations, finances and deadly rivalries with other white supremacist groups. Differences aside, they uniformly believe people with white skin are biologically superior, and certain traits, behaviors, politics and personality characteristics are innately linked to skin color. Much like flat-Earthers, they support this false belief through easily debunkable pseudoscience and revisionist history.
Unlike white supremacist ideology, modern conservativism and liberalism arose from the revolutionary idea of the enlightenment that all persons are created equal and have an unalienable right to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness. We further believe no traits or behaviors are innately linked to race, and it is racist to claim anyone should possess any political views because of skin color. Instead of politically organizing around group identity, conservatives and liberals believe we should organize around values and ideas. In contrast, white supremacists reject equality as a biological fallacy and unalienable rights as a political failure. They are proponents of race-based identity politics, meaning persons should politically organize to advance their race’s interests because racial identity is paramount and supersedes all other values or ideas. Consequently, they believe white people should unite to advance the interests of white people.
White supremacists are collectivists, meaning they reject the fundamental doctrine of individual rights to be protected by government, and advocate for group interests to be advanced by government. This is what makes them both dangerous and authoritarian. Denying the inherent value of the individual and instead seeing someone as nothing more than part of a larger collective has been the underlying premise of every genocide and dictatorships, as proved by Mao, Stalin, Hitler, Pol Pot, Castro, Che Guerva, Rwanda and Armenia (to name but a few). Without respect for individual rights, we are left with an authoritarian government acting in the interests of “the greater good” which will steamroll individual rights and even murder to achieve its collectivist objectives. For example, white supremacists reject capitalism and free markets as a Jewish system of exploitation, and instead believe a centralized government should control the economy and means of production to serve “the greater good.” As another example, dictatorships suppress speech and control education because they view freedom of speech and educational choice as threats to collective unity.
Although their philosophy is dangerous, the white supremacist movement is very weak and a mere shadow of its former strength. The KKK alone once numbered in the millions, but today the entire white supremacist movement is about 30,000 people divided across approximately 1,000 groups (Source: FBI). In comparison, there are 1.4 million people in the U.S. across about 33,000 gangs; MS-13 alone has 10,000 members in the U.S. That the “Unite the Right” rally in 2017 could only muster 400-650 shows how weak and impotent they have become since their heyday. Furthermore, their beliefs are shared with the lowest percentage of Americans at any time in history (source: PEW Research Center). We should remember that terrorism, be it Islamic or white supremacist, is psychological and not what is most likely to kill us.
Although white supremacist membership and ideology is at historic lows, just like Islamic terrorists, they use technology, especially the internet, to make themselves more dangerous. They have built online communities where they disseminate propaganda to recruit and radicalize, and coordinate nationwide. The internet gives everyone a platform, and increasingly we are seeing mass-shooters live-stream their murders, publish manifestos, find supporters and become famous. This encourages others.
So what should we do? We must educate ourselves, closely monitor the threat and speak against them at all opportunities. We must remember they adhere to a collectivist ideology that caused more than 100 million murders in the 20th century, and we cannot let history repeat itself. At the same time, we should be mindful these groups crave publicity and media coverage (they adhere to the notion “there is no such thing as bad publicity”), so we must perform the delicate act of fighting them while simultaneously denying them attention, keeping them in the shadows and fringes of society.