The presidency of Donald Trump has given white nationalists and other xenophobic and racist groups in the US a sense of validation and suddenly we are hearing of organizations holding rallies openly. What has been less noticed is that these groups are even attracting members from an unlikely demographic: young men of color As Arun Gupta writes:
Outfitted in a flak jacket and fighting gloves, Enrique Tarrio was one of dozens of black, Latino, and Asian men who marched alongside white supremacists in Portland on Aug. 4.
Tarrio, who identifies as Afro-Cuban, is president of the Miami chapter of the Proud Boys, who call themselves “Western chauvinists,” and “regularly spout white-nationalist memes and maintain affiliations with known extremists,” according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. Last month, prior to the Patriot Prayer rally he attended in Portland, Tarrio was pictured with other far-right activists making a white-power hand sign. Last year, he and other Proud Boys traveled to Charlottesville, Virginia, for the Unite the Right rally that ended with a neo-Nazi allegedly killing an anti-fascist protester.
Tarrio and other people of color at the far-right rallies claim institutional racism no longer exists in America. In their view, blacks are to blame for any lingering inequality because they are dependent on welfare, lack strong leadership, and believe Democrats who tell them “You’re always going to be broke. You’re not going to make it in society because of institutional racism,” as one mixed-race man put it.
What is one to make of this? Why are young men of color attracted to groups that advocate for policies that harm them and are creating a climate of hostility towards them, let alone sometimes openly despise them? Gupta say that there is a spectrum within the xenophobes.
The Proud Boys and Patriot Prayer, which overlap, embrace an America-first nationalism that is less pro-white than it is anti-Muslim, anti-illegal immigrant, and anti-Black Lives Matter.
Indeed, Patriot Prayer’s leader is Joey Gibson, who is half-Japanese and claims Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., as a hero. But his agenda is the opposite of King’s. Gibson’s rallies have attracted neo-Confederates and neo-Nazis.
His right-hand man is Tusitala “Tiny” Toese, a 345-pound Samoan American who calls himself “a brown brother for Donald Trump” and is notorious for brawling. By bringing diversity to what is at heart a white-supremacist movement, people of color give it legitimacy to challenge state power and commit violence against their enemies.
It looks like for these young men of color, the sense of male resentment that is being fostered by these groups that society now favors women and people of color darker than them is a strong enough unifying force that overcomes the barriers that would otherwise keep them from joining.
There have always been people who, for whatever reason, support groups that work against them. Very often these people are actively courted and given prominence by these groups, as we see with the few people of color who are supporters of Trump. One should not underestimate the appeal of a quick rise to prominence that such contrarianism provides. One should not overstate the numbers of such people, which are still small. But their presence does provide the white supremacists with a defensive shield against the charge that they are racist.