Whenever I speak about research I’ve conducted over the past decade on the civil rights-era Ku Klux Klan, the one question I can be sure I’ll hear relates to the danger posed by the KKK today. For a long time, the question would throw me, as—despite their similar monikers and common predilections toward foreboding racist rhetoric and ubiquitous adoption of white hoods, burning crosses, and other familiar symbols—I’ve long viewed the contemporary klan as a phenomenon distinct from its 1960s forebears.
There exists a straightforward response, of course, and I’ve typically relied on the data that Heidi Beirich and Evelyn Schlatter describe in their earlier essay in this dialogue, associated with the Southern Poverty Law Center’s important work compiling the locations and characteristics of a wide range of contemporary domestic hate groups. Continue reading
We all use a “schemata of interpretation” (Goffman 1974) to understand our world. How we “frame” experience renders some aspects of our world more visible and meaningful than others. In this essay, I want to explore the idea raised in several of last month’s essays that social scientists, media, and policy makers frame the world in ways that render the U.S. White Supremacist Movement (WSM) relatively invisible. The WSM’s invisibility flows from inattention (i.e., too many ignore the phenomenon despite knowing it exists) and inaccurate distortions when we do acknowledge it. Continue reading
The 2009 U.S. Department of Homeland Security report, “Rightwing Extremism” surprised many. The report noted a surge in right-wing recruitment and organizing activities in a context of dire economic conditions, immigration fears, Middle East conflicts, returning war veterans, and the potent symbolism of our nation’s first African-American President. Many commentators responded to the report with shock and disbelief. Terror is an external threat, they said, epitomized by violent Jihadis. How dare we turn the terror spotlight inward when we should be united against real extremist threats from afar.
The reality is that right-wing extremists are active in our midst. Continue reading
What We Know #1: The relationship between U.S right-wing/racist movements and the population in which they emerge is significantly different today than it was in earlier times. In the past, far right and racist movements often took root at times and in places in which a significant proportion of the population shared their racist and political values. The largest racist movement in U.S. history, for example, was the 1920s Ku Klux Klan whose 3-5 million members espoused ideas of white Christian supremacy and nativism that were not significantly different than those held by the white native-born Protestant majority in the early twentieth century. Similarly, German Nazism, commonly regarded as the prototypical Western racist movement, was nested within a population in which many embraced fundamental aspects of Nazi ideology such as anti-Semitism and nationalism. Continue reading
I would like to take this opportunity to examine my own recent, personal experience with both the “far right” and “conservative right” to raise questions about the ways in which they support each other, and the synergy between them that has been opened up as a result of the internet scene. My own early research on the white supremacist movement argued that the distinction between the far right and mainstream served to disavow mainstream racism, and that we needed to examine their shared assumptions about race. Now, as a result of my own personal experiences coming under attack from both mainstream conservatives and the far right, I am even more convinced of the need for sociologists to examine the synergy between the mainstream conservative movement and the far right. Continue reading