Three years ago today, I was part of a group that organized a resistance to a neo-Nazi demonstration. Under the guise of the South Africa Project, under the guise of the Church of Jesus Christ-Christian, the Aryan Nations organized a march in protest of the “white genocide” happening in South Africa. Their website featured soft focus stock photos of blond blue-eyed white girls and graphic photos of brutalized bodies.
The text told a story of poor white farmers living in terror in post-Apartheid South Africa, but quickly veered into a antisemitic history of South African Reserve Bank explaining how its Jewish capitalist owners conspired with communist Jews to start the African National Congress and the NAACP to marshal Black folks into extinguishing the white race. With a small amount of link clicking, one ended up on the Aryan Nations’ main website, which featured flyers promoting holocaust denial and speeches by a preacher who mixed the Christian bible with Hitler’s My Struggle.
What they described was but one part of a much broader problem. The global economic recession of 2008 increased economic desperation of the South African working class, leading to a general rise in violent crime. Far from a reactionary war against white people, what the Aryan Nations were actually pointing out was the social results of the periodic but inevitable crises of the capitalist system itself.
The Long March to the Bus
They planned to march from Lincoln Park about eleven blocks to the West side of the US Capitol building. On the day of, we show up early and some of the cops showed up early, but the neo-Nazis themselves showed up late. On a charter bus. Driven by a Black man.
Some of them wore the pale blue uniform of the Aryan Nations adorned with their organization’s coat of arms — a play on the wolfsangel rune used by numerous white hate groups from around the world — as well as with the blood drop cross of the Ku Klux Klan.
The flags they carried bore the same images, one of which was placed in the stead of the blue field of white stars of the US flag. They had no more than twenty people show up. On the charter bus. Driven by the Black man.
Having done a bit of outreach to local communities, universities, and political organizations, we presented with about 300 people of all ages, races, and genders. By the time the neo-Nazis got there, the National Park Police and the Metropolitan Police had a phalanx of riot cops on horses separating us from them and flanked them with cops on bikes. There were easily more police present than neo-Nazis. Those permits do come in handy.
We stopped them at every block. What would ordinarily be about a 30 minute to an hour march took about two hours. When we got a couple blocks from the Capitol, a squadron of US Capitol police stormed to funnel the neo-Nazis onto the Capitol lawn. Despite having reserved it for a few hours, they left after about twenty minutes because our collective voices drowned out their megaphone.
Because they had chosen to employ the agents of the state, the perimeter was strictly enforced, making it impossible for them to do any outreach for their hate cause. Those permits do come in handy.
Since that day in 2012, I have noticed a marked rise in above-ground neo-Nazi activity. In the following year, Matthew Heimbach showed up to the White House with less than ten members of his White Student Union to confront DC’s annual May Day march. The follow March, Kyle Hunt held a equally poorly attended White Man’s March. The non-profit white nationalist publishing outfit the National Policy Institute has continues to hold their conferences in the nation’s capital — this year will mark their fifth in four years.
For the first time in a long time, they are endorsing a candidate for president — remarkable given their general disdain of electoral politics. With the controversy surrounding the confederate flag in the wake of the Charleston shooting, they have managed to garner quite a bit of mainstream support. Protests at mosques are attended by mainstream conservatives, libertarians, and neo-Nazis alike — all for different reasons, but all on the same side of the police line.
The meteoric rise in the popularity of ideas largely reserved for the radical right has been the product not merely of a reaction to campaigns against police brutality, indefinite detention, and repressive immigration controls, but also the product of a well-credentialed elite of white nationalists turning their ideology into palatable talking points for the political mainstream. Over the past two decades, a cadre of non-profits have been uniting the previously disparate factions of the radical right — militiamen, Klansmen, paleo-conservatives, neo-Nazis — to create the Donald Trump moment we’re seeing today.