It’s just what everyone wants to hear: That disgusting white supremacists are feeling especially empowered by the president of the United States. Unfortunately, that’s exactly the case now, and it looks a lot like the early 1980’s.
Back in the Reagan era, white supremacy saw a similar type of resurgence, as Reagan’s policies exacerbated the still-dismal economic situation of African-Americans. Black people were just beginning to secure mortgages, after the long nightmare of “soft segregation” that persisted in the decades following Brown vs. Board of Education. When Reagan announced the inception of the War On Drugs in late 1982, it acted as a code word for the racists of the day, who took their cue to even more loudly and publicly persecute the minorities they knew would be the focus of Reagan’s efforts.
The upside of this historical comparison is that in November of that year, the KKK marched on Washington, D.C. for the first time in 25 years, and it looked a lot like many of the alt-Right gatherings of today: Hundreds of attendees predicted, but mere dozens who showed up. Those who did ended up relying on police presence to protect them from the violent anti-fascist protesters who showed up in far greater numbers than the Klansmen.
The downside is, in a word, Trump.
For all of Reagan’s faults, he at least was not overtly racist. That is to say, although his policies adversely affected primarily minorities, he was not fully staffed with openly racist advisers. Not in the vein of Steve Bannon, anyway. And it’s Bannon’s influence that is felt so strongly by the resurgent white supremacists of today.
A new report from Salon details a recent podcast called “Fash the Nation,” a spoof on Face the Nation using the ironically “cool” term for fascism. The podcast is part of an alt-Right network called The Right Stuff, created by Michael Peinovich. He was joined by another alt-Right activist who goes by “Jazzhands McFeels” and noted fascist punching bag Richard Spencer. The three all agreed to the following:
They kind of expect us to be doing this. I’m not saying [Trump]’s our guy, but they want — at least Bannon, I would think — wants us to be able to operate in that space. So we should and we are.”
Even that isn’t quite frightening enough to occasion an article like the one I’m writing here, so here’s the quote that stopped me in my tracks, and it’s from Peinovich. Talking about Donald Trump, he said:
He’s going to give us space to operate, and frankly, it is space to destroy.”
Peinovich was referring to the fact that Trump is no longer funding prosecutions of domestic terrorism, a term that even “McFeels” used:
Now is the time that we have to make hay while the sun shines . . . while these investigations of ‘domestic terrorist groups’ are not being funded by the government, they’re not being pushed by the Department of Homeland Security.”
No matter how small their movement still is, we are looking at a much more dedicated and resourceful kind of white supremacy now. The internet allows them to recruit at a much faster rate than the Klan — who had to rely on sheer hatred — ever did. The alt-Right uses memes and, more effectively, a kind of cult of personality to indoctrinate and radicalize their members.
It is imperative that we not allow the alt-Right to get too comfortable. At the very least, we need to keep them feeling like they need a police escort when they march in public.
Featured image via Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images