That nice young neo-Nazi next door

The Vice News video of the events that unfolded in Charlottesville by reporters embedded among the marchers has had over 46 million views. When I was watching it, I was struck (and depressed) by the fact that most of the white supremacists and neo-Nazis marching with tiki torches and chanting racist slogans seemed to be young people. I like to think that the younger generation is more enlightened and tolerant than their predecessors, but of course that is an extremely broad generalization. There will always be those who are throwbacks to the past, embracing old abhorrent views even more strongly than their ancestors did.

But another thing that struck me was the similarity of these people to the so-called ‘homegrown terrorists’, young Muslims who were brought up in the west and sometimes were even born here, and yet at some point decide to embrace the ideology of ISIS and al Qaeda and start down an intolerant and violent path. When that happens, people wonder what could make a young person turn violent against his own community and start to look closely at the families of these people and examine the influences in their lives that made them go that way and who were the individuals who inspired and groomed them and what steps should be taken to neutralize those factors.

One could ask the same questions of the young white supremacists and neo-Nazis but such questions are not explored with anywhere near the same breadth and depth. Perhaps it is because the answers that would be obtained would be far more unsettling than the heroes of the radical Muslims. Rather than the equivalent of obscure but charismatic imams who are usually fingered in the case of Muslims, the search for the influences of young neo-Nazis may lead to well known figures in political parties and churches and the media.

Alex Pareene takes a shot at finding those sources of influence and says that one breeding ground of white supremacists and neo-Nazis are the college Republicans.

I hope you appreciated your recent introduction to the future leadership of the Republican Party this past week. It happened in Charlottesville, Virginia, where hundreds of neo-Nazis and white nationalists marched under the banner of “uniting the right.”

Among those white nationalists was James Allsup, a speaker at the rally, who was also the president of the Washington State University College Republicans, until his resignation this week. He was elected to that position in 2015, and “radicalized” the organization, according to a fellow students.

Another attendee was Peter Cvjetanovic, a college student from Nevada. When photos began circulating of Republican Senator Dean Heller posing for a photo with the avowed white nationalist, it was explained that Heller couldn’t have known of Cvjetanovic’s abhorrent beliefs, as the photo-op happened merely because Cvjetanovic was a member of the College Republicans at the University of Nevada at Reno.

I’m far from the first to make this joke, but one way Senator Heller might’ve been able to tell that this kid was racist was that he was a member of the College Republicans.

I’m not merely being glib: Racial resentment has been a driving force behind College Republican recruitment for years, but at this point it’s really all they have left to offer. In the age of President Donald Trump, what inspires a young person not merely to be conservative or vote Republican, but to get active in organized Republican politics? Do you think it’s a fervent belief that Paul Ryan knows the optimal tax policy to spur economic growth? Or do you think it’s more likely to be something else?

But getting people to accept that the Republican party as being the breeding ground of white racist radicalism is going to be harder to do than fingering some imam as the source of Islamic radicalization. The party leadership is going to reject the idea that what attracts young racists to them is their sense that the party provides a welcoming atmosphere for their beliefs.

Elle Reeve, who was Vice News reporter shown in the video was interviewed on CBS’s Face the Nation about the event, along with Sherrilyn Ifill of the NAACP and former white nationalist Christian Picciolini. That segment is embedded in the link and begins at the 18:56 mark and goes on until the 31:25 mark. It is worth watching.

Reeve said that for all the pre-march rhetoric about wanting to preserve the statue of Robert E. Lee, once the march started no one talked about him being a military genius or even much about him at all. All they did was chant about the Jews. Picciolini was a former white supremacist and says that this movement has been growing for three decades, and he and Reeve both said there has been a concerted effort to rid themselves of the skinhead look formerly adopted by neo-Nazis. In the past they shaved their heads, tattooed their faces, wore leather jackets, tight jeans and boots, thus making them distinctive. Now, as deliberate policy, they are growing their hair and adopting a clean-cut, middle class look in an effort to blend in with the general population as a way of gaining recruits who might be turned off by the skinhead look. Picciolini said that he was recruited in 1987 at the age of 14 by people who sensed his loneliness and alienation and his need for belonging. They lured him in with the promise of camaraderie before creating in him a sense of grievance that enabled them to get him to hate others. His story sounded chillingly similar to the stories of how young alienated Muslims get radicalized and violent.

It is not going to be easy for many Americans to accept the fact that the major dividing line in politics is no longer liberal versus conservative but racists versus non-racists. While some people have little difficulty looking askance at a young Muslim as potentially being a terrorist, it will be much harder for them to stomach that the clean-cut young man or woman next door may be a neo-Nazi white supremacist. We know that Trump is strongly influenced by what he sees on TV and maybe this clean-cut look is what made Trump say that there were “very fine people” among the marchers.


  1. says

    The Republican Party, racists? Bah, I say! Pfah! Everyone knows that the Democratic Party is the party of slavery and the KKK, has always been so, and will always be because absolutely nothing happened between the 60s and 80s to cause things things to change! NOTHING!

    According to the narrative conservatives have been trying to push harder and harder lately.

  2. hyphenman says

    I created this meme to go along with my comments on The Guardian’s excellent four-part series focused on Paul Butler’s new book: Chokehold.

  3. Jenora Feuer says

    The basic principles of radicalization, of taking someone who feels adrift and giving them something bigger to be a part of… well, that doesn’t care in which direction the radicalization happens.

    (Of course, some groups are far more likely to make use of radicalization than others.)

  4. Siobhan says

    It is not going to be easy for many Americans to accept the fact that the major dividing line in politics is no longer liberal versus conservative but racists versus non-racists.

    I can’t imagine why. Nixon openly admitted as much with his Southern Strategy. This is just the continuation of decades of that same strategy.

  5. Pierce R. Butler says

    It is not going to be easy for many Americans to accept the fact that the major dividing line in politics is no longer liberal versus conservative but racists versus non-racists.

    And has been since well before W.E.B. Du Bois, over a century ago, pointed out race as the central line in US politics for the 20th century.

    Maybe by the 22nd, we’ll have “progressed” to a division between coastal refugees and inlanders or suchlike.

  6. anat says

    Re: Allsup, from WSU: He has since resigned from his position with College Republicans, but at the same time denied that he identified with the views expressed in the rally. I understand he is claiming to have been present in a journalistic capacity, and demands that anyone prove he agreed with its cause. Meanwhile, Susan Hutchison, Chair of the Washington state Republican party, who was among those demanding Allsup’s resignation, also made the point that he was not a ‘true Republican’ because in some interview he described himself as ‘paleo conservative or right-wing libertarian’ -- as if there aren’t plenty of Republicans with such positions. Does this mean some people on the right still have a sense of shame, or merely self-preservation?

  7. blf says

    Nixon openly admitted as much with his Southern Strategy.

    And Lee Atwater said so (quote slightly altered in an obvious manner so as to not be caught in the filter; edits in the source marked by {curly braces}):

    As to the whole Southern strategy that Harry S. Dent, Sr. and others put together in 1968, opposition to the Voting Rights Act would have been a central part of keeping the South. […]

    You start out in 1954 by saying, “[n-word], [n-word], [n-word]”. By 1968 you can’t say “[n-word]” — that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states’ rights and all that stuff. You’re getting so abstract now {that} you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is {that} blacks get hurt worse than whites. And subconsciously maybe that is part of it. I’m not saying that. But I’m saying that if it is getting that abstract, and that coded, that we are doing away with the racial problem one way or the other. You follow me — because obviously sitting around saying, “We want to cut this”, is much more abstract than even the busing thing, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “[n-word], [n-word]”.

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