Understanding the Political Landscape of Charlottesville

In a park in the center of the city, grass grows over the site where a huge bronze statue of the Confederate general once stood. Andrea Douglas, director of the Jefferson School's African-American Heritage Center, is overseeing a project to transform a statue of the Confederate general into a more inclusive public work of art. This article was first published on The Bard College Berlin's student blog and provides a guide to identifying and denouncing white nationalist ideas that are infiltrating the United States. In many ways, this is the return of an old American political tradition rather than an entirely new phenomenon, but it has taken on a new form and uses language that must be understood correctly if it is to be successfully challenged.

The concepts of white supremacy were at the center of the defense of slavery and were fundamental to the myth of the Lost Cause that justified segregation after the fall of the Confederacy. In such a changing landscape, outdated racist and xenophobic appeals are unlikely to be politically successful beyond a small fringe, so propagandists of racism have had to develop more subtle approaches to stoke fear and hatred for political ends. To do this, they have repackaged racist traditions into language and forms that could more easily enter the dominant political discourse. There is little new in the ideas that underpin white nationalism, white supremacy, the alternative right and fascism. In essence, white nationalism is little more than an attempt to cover up white supremacist ideas with the most respectable language of racial separatism, just as the extreme right has tried to repackage fascist thinking in a more modern way. All of these variants are based on common notions of white identity and racial superiority.

They promote hate and violence as valid political tools, rejecting the values of equality, coexistence and the rule of law in favor of brute power and ethnic division. Derek Black, a former white nationalist leader who is now an academic studying the origins of racist ideas, takes a cultural approach to understanding the movement by identifying its most important identity symbols. He defines a white nationalist as someone who interacts with the media that primarily serve the white nationalist movement, is friends with other white nationalists, attends white nationalist events, and supports the cause financially and politically. Members spend a lot of time defining and discussing these terms, as well as spreading them to society in general, trying to insert them into the media. The obsession with genetics and intelligence has long been a hallmark of white supremacists.

It's also something they share with President Trump, who loves to brag that his good genes and high IQ are the secret to his success in life. The shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh was based on the conspiracy theory that immigration is a Jewish plot to contaminate the white race. This central concept of anti-Semitism was popularized in The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a falsification created and disseminated by the Russian imperial secret service that has mutated, changed and changed over time, but never completely disappeared. The latest version is the Kalergi Plan, a conspiracy theory that is particularly popular among the Italian extreme right that posits a Jewish plan to undermine white European society through mixed-race and mass migration. In the United States, this theory has been promoted by conservative commentator Candace Owens and other Trump supporters. The glorification of the Confederacy and of a time in American history that sought to oppress and erase people of color is part of a project to redefine true Americans as only those with European heritage. Simon Clark is a non-resident principal investigator of National Security and International Policy at the Center for American Progress, where he leads the fight against violent white supremacy.

Clark is also chairman of Foreign Policy for America's board of directors, an advocacy group in America dedicated to promoting racial equity and justice, fighting hate, Europe's foreign policy, white supremacy, anti-Semitism+2 more. He studied at Westminster School and at Wadham College in Oxford where he studied Politics, Philosophy and Economics (PPE). The author would like to thank Derek Black for his ideas on the dynamics of white supremacist radicalization. The deadly “Unite the Right” demonstration a year ago in Charlottesville was supposed to be the party presenting the extreme right, a time when disparate ideologies could come together openly and feel real popular political power. The central political question then is how to get away from this latest dark turn in U.S. politics.

A broad coalition of voices in political and civil society must ostracize politicians who traffic in white nationalist language for political ends. As these efforts advance, a better understanding of this past and how it continues to shape and inform politics today will be key to building a more equitable and inclusive Charlottesville community. American Progress would like to recognize its many generous supporters who make its work possible. The positions taken by American Progress and its policy experts are independent; findings and conclusions presented are solely those of American Progress. The full list of followers can be found here. The Center for American Progress is an independent non-partisan political institute dedicated to improving lives through bold progressive ideas as well as strong leadership and concerted action.

Its goal is not just to change conversation but also change country. Meet its sister organization: The Center for American Progress Action Fund – an advocacy organization dedicated to improving lives across America.

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Jasmin Migliorisi
Jasmin Migliorisi

Extreme food ninja. Unapologetic bacon evangelist. Lifelong bacon geek. General food junkie. Avid web aficionado.

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