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.