In a tumultuous month of racial discourse -- the pro-slavery sentiments of the Tea Party Express leader, the smearing of Shirley Sherrod, the faux-troversy over "New Black Panthers," the ratcheting of anti-immigrant rancor -- a refrain of outrage has become the norm. That this outrage has consistently been coming from white conservatives seems indicative of a crest in a country that has lived under slavery as long as it hasn't.
This white backlash has been metastasizing over decades and has worn many mantles, argues Leonard Zeskind, author of the engrossing book, Blood and Politics: The History of the White Nationalist Movement from the Margins to the Mainstream. Zeskind has spent many years following the movements' leaders and attending gatherings, developing a unique insight into the membership, mindsets, and resources comprising a diaspora of Klansmen and Holocaust deniers, anti-immigration forces and militia men, executives in offices and everyday Americans.
Stressing a chasm of cultural difference between Middle America and the Coasts, Zeskind explained to me in this sit-down interview that many of the mainstream mouthpieces bemoaning the disenfranchised white man are hardly influential, but rather pandering to an existent culture ingrained with separatism.
Zeskind places the origin of this self-martyrdom at the repeal of the Jim Crow laws back under the Civil Rights Act in 1964. As alienation under loss of privilege set in, the defense of America's identity as a white nation became a unifying cause. In the years since, spurred by a preeminent entitlement to America, some form of white nationalism has continually emerged, often making headway into the mainstream.
Concurrently, there have been strident efforts by white power vanguardists to isolate and attract their own followers, in a long-term struggle to reclaim the reins of domestic dominance. Zeskind artfully weaves an historical narrative investigating these two camps in the white nationalist movement by following the trails of two leaders that embody opposing philosophies: Willis Carto and William Pierce, who built rivaling political and financial machines.
To ask Zeskind about the presence of the white nationalist voice today, he is obliged to provide an historical context for the part of America that has been innately intolerant--asserting that not only have these forces been years in the building, they are constantly adjusting core ideology to contemporary circumstances to update and expand the cause of white nationalism, demanding our vigilance. I solicited his assessment on an array of influences conflating our modern ethnological tempest.
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