White Nationalism and Its Enablers

Much ink is being spilt and much outrage is being expressed in the media about the appalling press conference of President Trump on August 15,[1] in which he equated today’s Nazis and Nazi sympathizers with those who oppose them and in which he equated George Washington and Thomas Jefferson with General Robert E. Lee, the former having founded America and the latter having sought to end it in the name of keeping slavery alive. An amazing moment indeed in American history to see a president side with the Nazi and other alt-right groups. No one was more pleased than former KKK leader David Duke who voiced his gratitude[2] to the president.

They say that people “dance with those who brung them” and Trump was doing that in supporting the alt-right. He has danced with these fringe elements before and during his campaign and presidency, hiring known white supremacists[3] to work closely with him in the White House. Why is anyone surprised by the true Trump that was revealed once again yesterday?

I would like to name some other enablers of the White Nationalist and White Superiority gang that is now occupying our political headlines and threatening to end America as we know it. This crisis is of course an educational moment if we take the time to pay attention. The president and his current White House team are not the only enablers of neo-Nazism.

1. Young men. It was striking how this latest incarnation of KKK and neo-Nazis who felt so emboldened as to march with torches and no hoods or masks on Friday night at the University of Virginia campus was made up so heavily of young white men. This underscores the crisis of manhood and the crisis of masculinity that pervades our culture. That so many young men have to find their identity by joining white supremacy groups is a disturbing sign of our times.

According to Heidi Beirich, director of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Project, the number of alt-right followers now operating in communities and communicating by social media is between 1 and 2 million people[4]. That is a lot of confused and potentially dangerous people and they should not be underestimated—especially with friends in very high places. It raises anew the findings of a serious study on male depression in the U.S. done a few years ago calling it a “public health crisis” and concluding that our young men lack a clear meaning of what it means to be male. “We must redefine healthy masculinity and recognize that even if men are putting on a face suggesting ‘everything is fine,’ real pain may be lurking beneath the surface.”[5] This is the exact issue I addressed in my book, The Hidden Spirituality of Men: Ten Metaphors to Awaken the Sacred Masculine: the pressing need to search out the healthy masculine. Today the need could not be more urgent: Mr. Trump is a very scary model of male success indeed. We can and must do better with our young people.

We are all paying the price for lack of effective male rites of passage in our culture and religions at this time. That is what these facts tell me: Many young men are lost and are drawn into groups where they can feel like they “belong” and with a clear “purpose” that gives them meaning—even if the meaning is a very distorted one. This is a state of emergency. Young people and especially young men (young women as a rule grow up much faster than men) need attention. Women are socialized at an earlier age than men; an unsocialized male is a sitting duck for perverse messages and social groups. Historically there have been healthy role models and opportunities on sports teams, in the scouts and in the military. But that does not suffice today for many men.

2. Lack of Elders. In the book I co-authored with Adam Bucko a few years ago, Occupy Spirituality, one of the questions we asked in our nationally distributed questionnaire was about elders in their lives. Ninety-eight percent said they want elders in their lives but that they could not find them. Why no elders? First, because our consumer capitalist driven society does not define elders as people for they are not consumer-driven as are younger people. So we farm them out to associate only with one another and we employ a term, “retirement” that guarantees they are out to pasture out of mind and out of sight. I advocate dropping the obscene concept of “retirement” and replacing it with “refirement” and “rewirement” and see what happens. Hopefully a new connection with the young might evolve, bringing with it a rebirth of intergenerational wisdom. Young and old have so much to teach each other.

3. CINO—Christians in Name Only. It is time to call out those who wrap themselves in Bible-talk and Christian clothes while preaching racism, tribalism, dogmatism, anti-semitism, Islamophobia, hatred and the rest. The Ku Klux Klan traditionally called itself a “Christian organization.”[6] There is such a thing as crackpot Christianity and genuine Christians need to stand up and be counted. The fact that “80% of white people who voted and call themselves 'evangelical' or 'born again' voted for Trump” (according to Senator Marco Rubio’s faith outreach director Eric Teetsel [7]), knowing what all of us knew about him, is no small matter. Of course other Christians also voted for him, especially in the hard-hit areas of loss of jobs in Youngstown, Ohio and the rest. But for Christians to put their own pain as a sole criterion for their vote, while shutting their eyes to the obvious sexism and racism voiced by Mr. Trump during the campaign makes one wonder if they ever heard the words of Jesus about love and justice and seeing Christ in the most vulnerable, the “least of these.” Bad times are no excuse to elect racist leaders.

It is telling that business leaders jumped ship after the white supremacy words of President Trump this week but his body of (so-called) religious leaders is sticking with him. CINO indeed![8]

More and more I am beginning to recognize the deep truth in Adrienne Rich’s observation that many men carry within them a “fatalistic self hatred.” I think this reality helps to explain the rise of KKK and neo-Naziism and other phenomena of our time. Does hatred of others derive from hatred of self? Jesus thought so when he proposed we love others as we love ourselves. Has bad religion—such as the pushing of original sin—contributed to this self-hatred and hatred of others? Bad parenting and bad schooling and consumer capitalism have made their contributions as well.

4. Hypocritical Republican politicians. Speaking of CINO, we cannot fail to mention those Republican politicians who have been wrapping themselves in mantles of so-called Christianity for decades while feeding off racist strategies at the same time. Hypocrisy rules. Blatantly going after voting rights of people of color has become a priority. Hating an occupant in the White House because of the color of his skin is pure hypocrisy. So too are claims that he is not a true American (because he was born in Kenya of course).

Where are the Republican politicians and leaders willing to stand up to Donald Trump’s viciousness? I wrote a public letter to Speaker Paul Ryan about this reality about six weeks ago but alas! He has yet to get back to me.[9] I still hold out hope that he will give me a response; maybe the crisis now before us might urge him to do so.

Maybe we should institute a “Paul Ryan Hypocrite of the Month Award,” exposing a legislator or Supreme Court judge who wears their religion on their sleeve but utterly betrays the teachings of Jesus regarding the poor and the needy. How do you explain the drive to cancel medical care for millions upon millions of Americans except that some believe that one class deserves to live longer than others? Why not fix Obamacare weaknesses instead of overthrowing it entirely?

5. Media Collusion Some media in America are beginning to do their job and do the investigating of truth, untruths, lies and “alternative facts” that are swirling about us on a daily basis in the chaos of the current White House. But some journalists and networks remain mere shills for that wing of the Republican Party specializing in hate radio and hate television.

Where were the media during the presidential campaign? They gave candidate Trump’s campaign preference – for example, 234 total network minutes for Trump compared to just 10 network minutes for Bernie Sanders.[10] They were complicit in his election. They are not without blame and responsibility in what has transpired. They were enablers too.

Once people and groups see and acknowledge their complicity in Trump’s ascendency-- whether it be as young men who have ignored their inner work, as missing elders, as hypocritical Christians, as complicit voters and in-denial Republicans or as colluding media with their loud sins of omission during the decisive 2016 campaign--then we can begin to deal with ways of healing a much-fractured nation, one where the dark underbelly is now exposing itself. For that revelation of our nation’s long-masked divisions, we can thank Donald Trump. The medicine, however, does not lie with him but with the rest of us.


[1] Michael D. Shear and Maggie Haberman, “Trump Defends Initial Remarks on Charlottesville; Again Blames ‘Both Sides’,” New York Times, Tuesday 15 August 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/15/us/politics/trump-press-conference-charlottesville.html

[2] Jeremy B White, “Former KKK leader David Duke thanks Trump for 'condemning leftist terrorists,'” The Independent Tuesday 15 August 2017, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/us-politics/former-kkk-leader-david-duke-thanks-donald-trump-leftist-terrorists-charlottesville-violence-latest-a7895451.html

[3] Ben Matthis-Lilley, “How Trump Has Cultivated the White Supremacist Alt-Right for Years” Slate 14 August 2017, http://www.slate.com/blogs/the_slatest/2017/08/14/donald_trump_s_ties_to_alt_right_white_supremacists_are_extensive.html

[4] John Hockenberry, interview with Heidi Beirich, “White Supremacy's Resurgence, Reflections From a Former Skinhead, Signing the Blues” The Takeaway, Public Radio International, WGBH, and WNYC, 15 August 2017, http://www.wnyc.org/story/the-takeaway-2017-08-15/

[5] William Pollack and Jennifer Siebel Newsom, “Depression in Men is a Public Health Crisis,” San Francisco Chronicle, 4 September 2014, p. A-14.

[6] Shadee Ashtari, KKK Leader Disputes Hate Group Label: ‘We’re A Christian Organization,” Huffpost, 24 March 2014, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/03/21/virginia-kkk-fliers_n_5008647.html

[7] Brandon Showalter, “Did 81 Percent of Evangelicals Really Vote for Trump? Not So Fast, Some Say.” The Christian Post, 16 November 2016, http://www.christianpost.com/news/81-percent-evangelicals-vote-trump-eric-teetsel-joe-carter-171542/

[8] Joanna Walters and Sam Morris, “Trump's evangelical panel remains intact as others disband. Who are his religious cheerleaders?” The Guardian, 18 August 2017, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/aug/18/donald-trump-evangelicals-charlottesville?

[9] Matthew Fox, “A Priestly Letter to Speaker Paul Ryan,” http://www.matthewfox.org/blog/a-priestly-letter-to-speaker-paul-ryan-1.

[10] John Nichols, “The Discourse Suffers When Trump Gets 23 Times As Much Coverage as Sanders,” The Nation, 14 December 2015, https://www.thenation.com/article/the-discourse-suffers-when-trump-gets-23-times-as-much-coverage-as-sanders/

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