20 May 2022

White Race Anxiety and Violence

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“Gov. Jay Inslee joined businesses, advocates and other leaders who are leading the way on Friday at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. The governor underscored that Washington is a place of belonging, ready to welcome all arriving Afghans and speaking out the recent upswing in violence against immigrant and Muslim communities.” “Gov. Jay Inslee joined businesses, advocates and other leaders who are leading the way on Friday at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. The governor underscored that Washington is a place of belonging, ready to welcome all arriving Afghans and speaking out the recent upswing in violence against immigrant and Muslim communities.” https://www.governor.wa.gov/news-media/washington-state-welcomes-afghan-refugees

Payton Gendron, the 18-year-old shooter who killed ten people in Buffalo last weekend, posted a 180-page manifesto two days before. In it, he said he would target the Tops Friendly Market in Buffalo, because Blacks seek to “ethnically replace my own people.” The code word here is “replace,” and refers to the “great replacement theory,” which targets equally Black and Brown peoples, immigrants and natives, Muslims, and especially Jews, who allegedly are behind an international conspiracy to whittle down and disempower the white race through immigration and lower birthrates.

In a New York Times Op-Ed this week, historian Kathleen Belew, author of Bring the War Home: The White Power Movement and Paramilitary America, explains it in a nutshell:


“The great replacement is the latest incarnation of an old idea: the belief that elites are attempting to destroy the white race by overwhelming it with nonwhite groups and thinning them out with interbreeding until white people no longer exist. This idea is not, at its core, about any single threat, be it immigrants or people of color, but rather about the white race that it purports to protect.”


This fear is the central theme of the wildly famous Tucker Carlson Show on Fox News and it has been picked up in many Republican circles – most famously in a series of Facebook ads in September 2021 by Congresswoman Elise Stefanik. One version reads,


“Radical Democrats are planning their most aggressive move yet: a PERMANENT ELECTION INSURRECTION. Their plan to grant amnesty to 11 MILLION illegal immigrants will overthrow our current electorate and create a permanent liberal majority in Washington.”


Though Stefanik has tried to distance herself from these statements in the wake of the Buffalo shootings, there is no denying that this is a common sentiment among former President Trump’s base. Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WYO), one of two lone Republicans on the Select Committee investigating the attack on the US Capitol (Jan. 6, 2021), boldly tweeted on Monday morning after the shooting: “The House GOP leadership has enabled white nationalism, white supremacy, and anti-semitism. History has taught us that what begins with words ends in far worse. @GOP leaders must renounce and reject these views and those who hold them.”

Belew explains some of the interconnected political themes touching on this white supremacist anxiety:


“This belief transforms social issues into direct threats: Immigration is a problem because immigrants will outbreed the white population. Abortion is a problem because white babies will be aborted. L.G.B.T.Q. rights and feminism will take women from the home and decrease the white birthrate. Integration, intermarriage and even the presence of Black people distant from a white community — an issue apparently of keen interest in the Buffalo attack — are seen as a threat to the white birthrate through the threat of miscegenation.”


University of Oklahoma professor of sociology and religious studies Samuel Perry has also specialized in White Nationalism. He explains that the fear that because white people aren’t fertile enough, it is “everybody’s responsibility to outbreed the negative elements we don’t want in our society.” This belief is at the core of many authoritarian movements that go back to Nazi Germany, and “It’s wrapped up in ethno-cultural outsiders: immigrants, Jews and Muslims. They are a threat to white hegemony.”

Perry notes that after some years of silence, the ideology resurfaced in the manifestos of Anders Breivik (who killed 77 people in Norway in 2011) and Brenton H. Tarrant (who killed 51 people in two New Zealand mosques). The latter warned of an impending “white genocide.” Twenty percent of Gendron’s manifesto is said to be plagiarized from Tarrant’s text. Gendron also praised Dylann Roof, who killed nine African Americans after spending some time with them in Bible study. He “fought for me and had the same goals I did,” wrote the Buffalo shooter. It’s impossible not to connect the dots.

With regard to Jews, they “are the biggest problem the Western world has ever had,” Gendron’s manifesto reads. “They must be called out and killed, if they are lucky they will be exiled. We cannot show any sympathy towards them again.” This is not so far-fetched. After Robert Bowers gunned down eleven worshippers in the Tree of Life Synagogue in 2018, he admitted that one of the reasons was that they welcome immigrant “invaders” into the US.

White nationalism is not just an American phenomenon, reminds us Professor Belew, at least with regard to the immigrant component of this deep-seated fear. It first made its appearance in a 1973 in a dystopian futurist French novel, The Camp of the Saints, by Jean Raspail (1925-2020). In this future vision, Europe is overwhelmed with immigrants from the Third World, as the Pope and the World Council of Churches, in concert with the liberal media and political elites, fan the flames of white guilt. As one enthusiastic reader from 2017 comments on the book’s Amazon page, “Horror comes at the end of the book as a motley group of 20 or so whites who are still defending the south coast of France are killed in a bombing raid by the new multi-racial government.” They defended themselves valiantly against the hordes of Barbarians, but Western civilization had lost the will to resist and the white race was driven to the edge of extinction. By contrast, another reader who hated Raspail’s book said these immigrants were “only portrayed as a dehumanized plague.” Clearly, to describe immigrants as vermin is likely the only way to craft an authentic horror novel. The obvious message is that these people are less than human – and they’re coming after us!

Raspail wrote over forty books, but this was his most famous one; and it caught the attention of a younger French writer, Renaud Camus (b. 1946). Also a prolific writer, Camus won several literary prizes in France as a gay poet and novelist. But starting in the mid-1990s, while writing a book on some of the villages in the Occitanie region of southern France (he still lives in a castle he bought there, built in 1340), he had an epiphany. Immigrants from North Africa and beyond were changing the populations of many of those villages. That’s when the “great replacement theory” came to him. His book, Le Grand Remplacement (“The Great Replacement”) only came out in 2011 and was never translated into English. Yet its impact has been felt on several continents. The Nation published an article on Camus in 2019 under that title, “How Gay Icon Renaud Camus Became the Ideologue of White Supremacy.” Credit for his great replacement theory appears in the manifestos of the last three white nationalist shootings: the Australian Brenton Tarrant (Christchurch mosques shootings); Patrick Crusius (El Paso Walmart shooting, killing 22 people); and Payton Gendron.


“The Year 2021 in Hate and Extremism”

The best organization tracking hate groups and violent militia is the Southern Poverty Law Center. Their 2021 report on far-right extremism is a meticulously researched and nicely illustrated 64-page magazine (“The Year in Hate and Extremism 2021”). The main article (bearing the title of the magazine, pp. 2-17), written by Cassie Miller and Rachel Carroll Rivas, begins by noting that the storming of the US capitol in January 2021 proves “that extremist leaders can mobilize large groups of Americans to use force and intimidation to impose their political will” and that these groups have “coalesced into a political movement that is now one of the most powerful forces shaping politics in the United States.” Then follows a summary of what they intend to communicate in this piece:


“In the year since the insurrection, this hard-right movement – made of hate and extremist groups, Trump loyalists, right-wing think-tanks, media organizations and committed activists with institutional power – has worked feverishly to undermine democracy, with real-world consequences for the people and groups they target. Within the GOP, a radical faction is attempting to rout the few remaining moderates unless there is a robust counter-effort from democracy supporters.”


At the heart of this anti-democratic campaign is the ”big lie,” that is, that the 2020 presidential election was “stolen” from Trump. It’s part of the platform all of the candidates he endorsed for this week’s midterm elections enthusiastically and vocally supported. But the authors point out that a recent poll by the Public Religion Research Institute reveals that Republicans voters “are drifting toward a greater acceptance of political violence.” This research shows that almost a third of Republicans, and 39 percent of those who claim the 2020 election was rigged, believe that “true American patriots might have to resort to violence in order to save our country” (8).

One illustration of this is the acquittal of young Kyle Rittenhouse who shot and killed two protesters and maimed a third at the protests following the police killing of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin. The jury found that Rittenhouse had solely acted on self-defense. Upon hearing the verdict, Rep. Thomas Massie tweeted, “There is hope for this country.” From then on, he was feted as a hero in these circles:


“Others have made a show of vying to hire Rittenhouse as their intern, while the right-wing campus organization Turning Point USA treated him like a celebrity at their America Fest 2021 event. In a bizarre carnival-like atmosphere, Rittenhouse received a standing ovation as he strolled onstage for a panel discussion accompanied by pyrotechnics and his own theme song” (8).


Though the number of hate groups diminished from 2018 to 2021 (1,020 to 733) – the same for antigovernment groups (from 1360 in 2012 to 488 in 2021), you can see this multi-pronged movement strengthening as you peruse the next sections of the article: “Proud Boys membership spikes,” “White nationalist and neo-Nazi groups continue to adapt,” “The Antigovernment Movement takes a hit, but gets back up bruised and battered,” “Mainstream hate reorients without the White House in its pocket.” Miller and Rivas put it this way, “In the wake of [Jan. 6], the hard-right is reorganizing, re-strategizing and planning to emerge stronger” (16).


Antigovernment groups and hate groups

Under hate groups (total 488), the largest category is “general” (266), but three in particular bear mention. First, the 92 militia are obsessed with FTXs (field training exercises), guns and military-like uniforms, and “maintain internal hierarchical command structures” (56). Second, the 75 sovereign citizen groups claim “they are not under the jurisdiction of the federal government” and need not obey US laws. They buy into a variety of conspiracy theories. In fact, their rise in numbers lately “was largely due to their participation in the QAnon movement, which has cross-pollinated with sovereign and other conspiracy theories” (58). They can be violent, as it was reported on national news: “On July 3, sovereign group Rise of the Moors had an armed standoff with Massachussetts police on their way to Maine for training. Group members did not have firearm or vehicle licenses. The standoff shut down I-95 highway.” Arrested and charged, the group is suing the Massachussetts State Police and several media outlets for $70 million, requesting their case be litigated in some international arena.

Third, the 52 million conspiracy propagandist groups typically resort to theories that “include ideas about door-to-door gun confiscations, martial law, supposed takeover of the U.S. by the ‘New World Order’ and demonization of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)” (59). During the pandemic, many of these groups were claiming that mask and vaccine mandates were infringements on citizens’ constitutional liberties. As most groups on the far-right have turned to “alt-tech” platforms such as Bitchute, Odyssee, Gab, and the new start-up Chthonic Software, they can peddle their ideas free of any kind of censorship.

Finally, among the hate groups, besides the largest category (“general hate,” 295 groups), one should note the largest, the White Nationalist category (98 groups), then the Anti-LGBTQ one (65), closely followed by the Antisemitic one (61). Not far behind, we find the Neo-Nazi groups (54) and the anti-Muslim ones (50). The Klu Klux Klan at 18 is tied with the Anti-Immigrant groups.

Here we come full circle to the anxieties that haunt all these groups. The antigovernment animus is closely related to that of a variety of hate groups, and all share to some extent the fear that the country is changing. America is fast becoming more diverse, as the 2020 Census showed in dramatic fashion. Only 58% self-identify as “White non-Hispanic” (63.5% in 2010); it was the only demographic that shrunk (about 5 million less). Notably, “white Americans now comprise less than half of the nation’s under-age-18 population.” This old fear that white American Christian identity is threatened likely represents the greatest common denominator in all these right-wing extremist groups.


Hopeful signs

It looks like Donald Trump’s endorsements were followed closely in Republican primary voting, and particularly here in Pennsylvania. Doug Mastriano, with Trump’s backing, won the Republican nomination for the governor’s race. Yet few believe a candidate who openly supported the effort to overturn the 2020 election of Joe Biden could win this race against a relatively popular Democratic candidate (Josh Shapiro) who won his party’s candidacy from the start. The same could be said for many other places. But there could be surprises, naturally.

What is more important is that we can see plenty of people and groups coming together, like the grassroots community group BTV Clean Up Crew formed in July 2019 in Burlington, Vermont. Their mission is to build community, help all their neighbors feel loved and welcomed, and specifically to “confront hate and extremism” by removing bigoted flyers, stickers, and posters by hate groups in their area. In Burlington, it’s the white nationalist group Patriot Front that got them started. Since their interventions, the number of hate incidents has gone down. They have found ways to use the cleaned-up material to crowdsource donations on Facebook and thereby support local organizations such as Outright Vermont, Migrant Justice, and Black Lives Matter of Greater Burlington.

Another community coalition building effort that this SPLC issue highlights is an initiative by the Muslim Association of Puget Sound (MAPS). They are spearheading a campaign to welcome Afghan refugees. As of Dec. 31, 2021, only 52,000 of the 75,000 brought into the US had been resettled. Though the overall effort received bipartisan support in Congress, there has been a good deal of local pushback in many places. This campaign, dubbed AMEN (American Muslim Empowerment Network) seeks “to get ahead of the hate.” In the words of executive director Aneelah Afzali, “We’re likely going to see, and we’ve already seen, a spike in xenophobia and Islamophobia with a number of new Brown Muslims arriving in different parts of the state. So, what we created are these welcome signs that just say we welcome our Afghan neighbors.” Afzali has joined with Washington state’s governor Jay Islee, community leaders and corporate partners to welcome arriving Afghan refugees (October 2021, see above photo) and “is also partnering with the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services to provide support to refugees” (30).


White Anxiety and Jesus, the Jew

Jesus was no white European male. He was a Middle Eastern Semite, born in a Jewish village of Galilee in Roman Palestine. In today’s parlance, he was “brown.” Pilate, the Roman governor, found a passive-aggressive way of spiting the Jewish leaders that cornered him into condemning an innocent man. He put up a sign over Jesus’s cross that read, “King of the Jews.”

Jesus consistently welcomed the poor, the lepers, women; and he even gathered the children around him once and said, “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to those who are like these children” (Matthew 19:14). Among other qualities, children don’t naturally hate others. They’re innocent until they’re taught to do so. They’re also extremely vulnerable. Anybody who abuses a child, Jesus said, it would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied to his neck. The same applies to the powerless and marginalized in our society.

The Apostle Paul makes it clear in his letter to the Galatians that the predominantly Jewish church needs to welcome the recent believers from other populations – the “Gentiles” who were mostly polytheists before embracing Jesus as their Redeemer and Lord. Don’t require them to be circumcised or to follow the Jewish laws, Paul writes. In fact, “There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).

One of my favorite Bible passages is at the very end. In Revelation 21, we hear the Apostle John recounting his vision of the “new heaven and the new earth” (1). Then this, “And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband” (2). The city had no temple, “for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. And the city has no need of sun or moon, for the glory of God illuminates the city, and the Lamb is its light” (23). Now comes the most eloquent divine rebuttal to the current ideology of White Christian Nationalism (the American version):


“The nations will walk in its light, and the kings of the world will enter the city in all their glory. Its gates will never be closed at the end of the day because there is no night there. And all the nations will bring their glory and honor into the city” (24-26).


God’s good creation, so long marred by human sin, will then be fully redeemed by the blood of God’s Lamb. And all of the wealth and beauty of human nations, tribes and cultures will sparkle and shine forevermore in God’s presence. Racism and prejudice of all kinds will have disappeared.

In this period of deep and painful polarization in the United States, this is a vision Christians must rally around, or they might lose their soul. Award-winning journalist and acclaimed writer Tim Alberta, now staff writer for The Atlantic, actually grew up in a small city in Metro Detroit called Brighton. His father was an evangelical pastor and he himself still identifies as one. His latest piece (just under 10,000 words) is entitled, “How Politics Poisoned the Evangelical Church.” In it, he contrasts two churches and summarizes lengthy conversations with their two pastors, while tying these findings with others he gleaned through his year-long research tour around the country. I’ll just offer you two quotes that best sum up his main point:


“Substantial numbers of evangelicals are fleeing their churches, and most of them are moving to ones further to the right.”

[His concluding paragraph which expands on what he sees as “a steady trend”] “More people will leave churches that refuse to identify with a tribe and will find pastors who confirm their own partisan views. The erosion of confidence in the institution of American Christianity will accelerate. The caricature of evangelicals will get uglier. And the actual work of evangelizing will get much, much harder.”


Frightening and alarming, indeed. But as people of faith, along with BTV Clean Up Crew, MAPS-AMEN, and many other groups working for community-building and the healing of this nation’s social and political fabric, we just have more work to do. The Qur’an has God addressing humanity in these words, “People, We created you all from a single man and a single woman, and made you into races and tribes so that you should get to know one another. In God’s eyes, the most honoured of you are the ones most mindful of Him: God is all knowing, all aware” (Q. 49:13, Abdel Haleem). We all have plenty of resources to work with in this call to work for human flourishing, and especially for “the least of these,” as Jesus put it. The best way to confront hate and bigotry is with love and solidarity. With God’s help, let’s do it.