The Ku Klux Klan (KKK) rally in Charlottesville last month was a properly audacious event. The terrorist organization, once confined to the shadows of clandestine gatherings, felt emboldened to reveal themselves publicly. This should come as no real surprise. We live in a political age where creeping white nationalism, supremacy, xenophobia, and hatred of the ‘other’ is being mainstreamed in a very real and very subversive way. The conditions for the KKK to come out of the shadows has never been better.
While they will always pose a risk to public safety given their history of terrorism and violence, they are no longer the primary threat to equality and multiculturalism. In the contest of ideas that now defines this political age, they have lost. They are too old, too redneck, and their brand too toxic. They have not mastered the art of strategic messaging, free media, or how to present themselves in a way that can capture new social voice and recruits.
The real threat is coming from the groups assembling for the ‘Unite the Right’ rally in Charlottesville this weekend.
Groups like Traditionalist Worker Party, Neo-Confederate League of the South, and even the National Socialist Movement, i.e., the Nazi Party will be on location, along with other white nationalist personalities like Baked Alaska and Augustus Invictus. This is what the next generation of white nationalism looks like and where the frontline of modern white supremacy currently is. There is a reason why former KKK Grand Wizard David Duke promoted this event, and not the event of his fellow Klansmen last month.
So why is this more of a threat than the KKK?
Because ‘Unite the Right’ represents a pivot away from an outdated expression of racism and supremacy that people – especially young people – will never grow accustomed too. The ability to scale messaging into new spaces and new demographics is not available for a group like the KKK anymore – even though some of the core belief system is the same. What is available, however, is conversation and rhetoric that advocates supporting ‘Western Civilization’ and ‘Awakened European Identity’. This is how the current white nationalist conversation is being mainstreamed to push their supremacist agenda.
Duke, like many others, knows that the future is not in robe-wearing Klansmen, but in the slow merging of white nationalism and national identity with conservative politics into a coherent mainstream ideology. This ideology, known as ethno-nationalism, is defined by the idea of shared heritage that includes common language, faith, racial, and cultural origins. Translation: White European Christians.
Which is exactly why an alt-right group like the Proud Boys chant, “Are you a proud Western chauvinist?” during their initiation, and what websites like the Occidental Dissent are pushing when they claim to be an outlet for ‘Nationalism, Populism, and Reaction.’ Both of these groups are heavily invested in Unite the Right.
More importantly, these groups have started to master the art of strategic messaging through effective marketing and conversation on social media. Last year, George Washington University’s Program on Extremism published a study that tracked a 600% rise in the proliferation of white nationalist media on Twitter. This trend is reflected in the communications decisions made by white supremacists groups like Identity Evropa who will also be at Unite the Right.
Far from the hate fueled media of the Nazi sympathizers like the Daily Stormer or Stormfront, Identity Evropa presents themselves as fraternity of young clean cut professionals who are trying to reclaim their ‘identity’ and ‘reject their dispossession’. This approach is not dissimilar from alt-right scions like Richard Spencer who led the torch-lit rally in Charlottesville in May and runs The National Policy Institute. Among other things, they claim, “NPI is an independent organization dedicated to the heritage, identity, and future of people of European descent in the United States”.
Unite the Right, far from being the last gasp of a dying field of aging racists, represents a reinvigorated front in the battle for equality and acceptance of multiculturalism. And on this new front in the war over identity politics, they are currently winning. The attendance of so many white nationalist and supremacist groups at Unite the Right shows a capacity for organization that goes beyond anything that anti-racist, anti-fascists, or progressive groups have proven capable of thus far.
This should deeply concern all of us, more so if Charlottesville continues to be a staging ground for these groups. The potential for this to irreparably transform the social and political landscape of the Commonwealth remains a very real possibility.
It is also naive to believe that an event like Unite the Right will solely be attended by hate groups. The Unite the Right Facebook page claims the event will, “speak out against displacement level immigration policies in the United States and Europe and to affirm the right of Southerners and white people to organize for their interests just like any other group is able to do, free of persecution.”
Beyond the southern heritage and white nationalist language, using immigration as the strategic lever by which this messaging is pushed, will appeal to a range of people who simply support policies coming from the White House. This is the convergence of white nationalism with modern day conservatism and another way the supremacy conversation is being mainstreamed, especially in light of President Trump’s proposed refugee ban and new limits on legal immigration.
Whatever happens this Saturday in Charlottesville, one thing is for certain: It will be a litmus test not only for Virginia, but how all segments of the public come together to confront hate and intolerance. The days of ‘just ignore them’ is no longer a viable strategy in dealing with organized groups who are actively trying to subvert progress made towards greater equality. The rallies this summer in Charlottesville have proven that the forces of white nationalism and supremacy no longer fear public exposure. Indeed, they are actively courting media attention as a way to push their message. Unite the Right is the culmination of all these efforts and is shaping up to be one of the largest supremacy rallies in recent memory. Let that sink in for a moment.
Stay tuned to RVA Mag for our continuing coverage of the Unite the Right and our on the ground reporting from the event on Saturday. Follow us on Instagram (@rvamag) and join our conversation on Facebook.