The constraints that are faced by the current racialist movement are in many ways the same that they have always historically faced: governmental and countermovement opposition, negative publicity, movement infighting, etc. Looming great over these is the bifurcation within the movement concerning the strategies and tactics that they feel should be used to achieve movement goals. Namely, should they be focusing upon legal or extralegal actions? Should they go underground, engaging in violence, or try to gain power through the political process? The path chosen can greatly affect recruitment, mobilization efforts, and the likelihood of success.
In the past, violence has been especially effective at achieving movement goals. The First Era Klan disbanded after helping bring about Jim Crow laws and reasserting white supremacy in the South through their many criminal acts bent on intimidating recently-freed slaves. However, over time it seems that the effectiveness of this non-institutional strategy has waned. During the Civil Rights Movement, the Third Era Klan was responsible for many criminal acts, including bombings and murders. This violence targeted at the Klan’s enemies, while effective at killing some oppositional figures and causing damage, did not stop desegregation efforts, and may have helped turn the tide against institutionalized discrimination through the negative publicity that arose.
The alternate strategy—of trying to gain changes through legitimate means—also has a long history. The key to the success of this strategy requires presentation of a positive, non-deviant image of movement members. Without a respectable collective identity and public image the ability to recruit new members and influence public policy is limited. This approach, too, has led to gains for the movement in the past. Most notably, the Second Era Klan—with millions of dues-paying members—was a powerful political force in the 1920s, helping to elect Klan-backed candidates at all levels (Sims 1978), in part by presenting the Klan as a patriotic fraternal order based on “100 Americanism.”
Today, the ability of openly racist organizations and individuals to gain political change is extremely small, which has caused the splintering of the movement. New groups have been formed that attempt to distance themselves from the stigma of violence and racism, while still striving for the same old movement goals using tactics that include the creation of “academic” journals, think tanks, and conferences, as well as eschewing racial epithets and symbolism. There foci are often issues that are most likely to resonate with mainstream whites, from unemployment and big government to immigration and crime. Similarly, although segments of the movement espouse the strategy of “Leaderless Resistance,” with small clandestine cells acting independently (Beam 1992, Miles 1983), and/or for “Lone Wolves” to act on their own against racial enemies (Metzger 2003), the movement’s ability through violence to bring about an all-white nation or even segregation is almost impossible. This is not to say that Lone Wolves and independently-acting cells pose no threat; they can and do commit acts of violence sometimes with great impacts, but their efforts pale when compared to the power of the state.
The current political opportunity structure for the movement is mixed. Overt racism, and the acceptance of it, is decreasing in society, which limits the ability of openly racialist organizations to mobilize adherents. They have also been the target of governmental repression efforts that view some organizations as domestic terrorists. However, many technological and political changes over the last few decades have increased the ability of members (often covertly) to enter the mainstream to pursue their goals as well as to reach new audiences and form new communities of like-minded individuals. Foremost among these changes are the rise of the internet and social media and the movement of the Republican Party further to the right.
Via the internet, advocates of both institutional and non-institutional strategies have gained many tools to further their efforts. Those seeking change through legitimate means have an uncensored medium in which they can control not only their messages but their identities. Thorough computerization and the spread of social media, the production and distribution of texts, music, and videos has become so simple and the necessary labor needed so small, that a single individual can have an extensive web presence. Advocates of violence can use the anonymity provided to more freely spread their messages, helping to radicalize racialist actors, while minimizing the risks involved in their activism. Both benefit from the newer, larger audience brought by the internet, and the creation of new computer-mediated social networks. Discussion boards such as Stormfront, used by hundreds of thousands of individuals throughout the world, create linkages and communities unbound by geography. Racialist pod casts, YouTube videos, internet radio programs and more feed a perception of being a member of something greater than oneself. The solidarity felt when individuals recognize their own beliefs in others’ expressions helps to mobilize and recruit individuals to the movement.
The current political climate also benefits the movement. The rise of the Tea Party, with its focus on non-white immigration, the government as enemy, and the election of a non-white president, have allowed the messages of racialists to resonate much more with mainstream ideology. The increasingly common framing of America and Americans (American = white) being threatened culturally, economically, and morally by non-white “illegal” immigrants, homosexuals, “socialist” liberals, Islamists, and a Big Brother-esque Government bent on taking away guns, etc., has been part and parcel of racialists’ messages for years. That prominent figures in society proudly exclaim these ideas, gives increased legitimacy to racialists, who have held and rallied around the same beliefs for decades. Racial demographic changes and economic recessions have fed a sense of loss of status and control among some whites, making them more receptive to racialist messages. The rise of multiple Tea Party, gun rights, and anti-immigration organizations has given racialists the ability to join “legitimate” groups, thereby gaining easier access to mainstream recruits and influence on public policy.
Despite the legitimacy currently granted Tea Party ideology, with America poised to become majority minority in the coming decades, if the racialists’ institutional efforts fail, I believe there will be a growing number of alienated white, primarily male Americans radicalized by movement messages to the point they feel non-institutional means are their only option. How big of an impact these actions will have on society remains to be seen.
Sims, Patsy. 1978. The Klan. New York: Stein and Day.
Louis Beam. 1992. “Leaderless Resistance.” The Seditionist, 12: 1-7.
Miles, Robert. 1983, “’Take Off the Hood’…Scream Our Foes!” Inter-Klan Newsletter & Survival Alert: 5.
Metzger, Tom. 2003. Laws of the Lone Wolf, accessed February 19, 2011 http://www.resist.com/Articles/literature/MiniManualOnSurvivalByTomMetzger.htm.